IN MEMORY OF
Digitized by the Internet Archive
Wallace H. Kirby
Photographs by Burnie Batchelor
Jacket and book design by T. S. Ferree, Jr.
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
Raleigh, North Carolina
(&' Copyright 1980
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
Raleigh, North Carolina
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 80-69653
EDWARDS & BROUGHTON CO.
who makes life
1. We, Too, Can Walk With God 1
2. He Didn't Know ... But He Went 8
3. Come Near Me 14
4. He Sees Something in Each of Us 19
5. A Man After God's Own Heart 25
6. Expect Christ Now! 31
7. He Kept Having to Start All
Over Again 37
8. Practice What You Preach 42
9. The Transformation of an
Ordinary Man 47
10. He Needs Ordinary Folks 52
11. Why Settle for Less? 58
12. With Paul, We'll Keep on Trying 63
13. He Was One of Us 69
14. The Resurrection Life: For Christ
And For Us 75
15. Take a Closer Look 80
16. That Wasn't a Convincing Way
to Begin 85
17. What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modem Church Have in Common? 91
18. He Didn't Go Unprepared! 97
19. Which One of the Twelve? 103
20. Let Go! This is My Carrot! 109
21. Reach Out and Touch 114
22. Listen to the Children 120
23. He Comes When We Call 126
24. I Wonder Why He Didn't Leave
His Name 132
25. Will We Claim Our Inheritance? 138
26. Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? 144
27. Not Really ... No One Could Love
Me That Much! 148
28. I Don't Believe in an Empty Tomb 154
29. What's in the Clouds? 159
Ordinary boys and girls become extraordinary when seen
through the eyes of love. Ordinary babies are no longer part
of a statistical record if they are our children or grandchil-
dren. Ordinary events change into unusual events if we are
The windows in the sanctuary of the Edenton Street
United Methodist Church are ordinary stained glass win-
dows, but they became extraordinary last year when a series
of sermons was preached on the characters and events de-
picted. We discovered that ordinary people like Enoch and
Andrew and Paul became extraordinary when they allowed
God to intervene in their lives. The ordinary events in the life
of Jesus became extraordinary because of his response to his
heavenly Father. We made the surprising discovery that any
one of us, however ordinary or insignificant we may feel,
can become extraordinary when we become aware of and
respond to the transforming presence of God in our lives.
This book is the result of the attentive listening by the
Edenton Street United Methodist Church congregation and
its request to have the sermons put into print. I am indebted,
therefore, to those who listened and encouraged this en-
deavor. My appreciation also goes to those who helped with
the manual labor: my wife, Sally, and Mrs. Myron Banks
who read, reread, and edited; Mrs. Everett Norton and Mrs.
Alan Wood who deciphered and typed the manuscripts.
As I study the Bible and observe people, I am constantly
amazed at how God can use us ordinary folk and the events
of our day for his extraordinary purposes. I pray that the
readers of this book will find that same good news.
Wallace H. Kirby
Enoch Genesis 5:21-24
We, Too, Can Walk With God
One Saturday night, the telephone rang. A friend was
calHng my wife: "I'll be in Raleigh tomorrow attending
Edenton Street Church. I cannot get there until eleven
o'clock, so don't wait for me. I'll meet you in the narthex
after the service."
On Sunday morning I scanned the congregation from the
pulpit, but I was never able to spot her. She had always been
an attentive listener, and I needed the support I knew I could
receive from that kind of listening. I finally concluded that
something had interfered with her plans and she wasn't able
to make the trip.
After the service, by the time the last person had filed out
the center aisle, I spotted her in a huddle with my family
down front. They were busy chatting as I made my way
''Where were you?" I asked her. 'T looked all over this
sanctuary and I couldn't find you. Where were you hiding?
In the balcony? Under a pew?"
Back came her reply. "Oh, I was sitting next to Moses."
I had been the minister of Edenton Street United
Methodist Church for only a few months, and had a lot of
names running around in my mind. But I could not re-
member anyone by the name of Moses. I felt sure that if I had
met someone with that Biblical name I would have remem-
bered him. A John or a Paul would have escaped me
perhaps, but not a Moses.
"Moses who? I didn't know we have a member named
Moses." Even as I said that, I was grateful to this unknown
gentleman because he had evidently made our friend feel
"Oh, you know Moses," she said. "There he is right up in
that window. And I sat next to him."
I suppose that was the first time I became aware of some-
W^', Too, Can Walk With God—1
thing other than the beauty of the stained glass windows in
the sanctuary of Edenton Street Church. I knew that each
window had a figure in it, but if you had asked who they
were, I would have replied with a rhetorical question: "The
disciples?" That morning I took a quick scan of the fourteen
windows. After that I was aware that Christ is depicted in
the two center windows, but I was not particularly con-
scious of the others — except Moses.
My awareness was intensified some months later when it
became evident that some repair work needed to be done on
the windows. A church school class, having given one of the
windows as a memorial when the church was rebuilt after
the 1956 fire, notified the business administrator that it
would like to pay for any repairs needed on the ''Stephen"
window. So I was introduced to Stephen.
And then one of our good listeners asked if I had ever
considered a series of sermons on the sanctuary windows.
He went on to explain: "Whenever I usher, some people ask
to be seated near the Andrew window, or perhaps as near to
Abraham as possible. So I think the congregation would be
interested in knowing more about the characters they see
That was the beginning of this series of sermons. The
major section of each window depicts some person from the
Biblical record. There are six Old Testament persons on one
side: Enoch, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and Isaiah.
On the other side are Peter, James, John, Andrew, Stephen,
and Paul, all from the New Testament. The two windows in
the center on each side depict Christ. The lower portions of
all fourteen windows are events from the life and ministry of
Jesus. If we start in the corner nearest the pulpit and follow
the windows around the sanctuary, ending in the opposite
corner near the lectern, we would follow each of the Biblical
characters and the events from Jesus' life in the chronologi-
cal order in which they appear in the Scriptures.
The first window in the sequence shows Enoch. This is the
man who stands nearest the pulpit, which is significant to
Enoch is known as the man who walked with God. Of the
twelve Biblical characters pictured, the least has been writ-
W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1
ten about Enoch. There are chapters and chapters which
carry the account of Abraham's experience with God. David
and Moses and Joseph occupy a lot of space in the scriptural
record. Tucked away in the fifth chapter of Genesis are four
short sentences, fifty-four words, that tell us about Enoch.
We used to have Bible quizzes in Sunday School when I
was a young boy. Whenever the teacher asked what man in
the Bible never died, but was taken straight up to heaven, we
had that answer at our fingertips. It was Enoch. I pictured
him walking along one day and then suddenly vanishing into
thin air. I later learned that there was another man who,
according to the Biblical account, never died. The prophet
Elijah was reported to have been taken up to heaven in a
Reading that entire fifth chapter of Genesis is like reading
a family ancestral record. It begins with Adam, telling when
his son Seth was born, how long he lived after the birth of
that son, the total years of his life, and then it states bluntly,
. . he died." Genesis 5 follows that same pattern down
through six generations: age at the birth of the son; how long
the father lived afterwards ; the total years of the father' s life ;
and then '\ . .he died." There is nothing descriptive about
any of the six men before Enoch, or the two who follow.
But the record about Enoch is different, and thus it shines
as a brilliant star in that chapter. A comparison of Enoch and
his son shows that difference.
"Methuselah was 187 years old when he begat Lamech.
After the birth of Lamech he lived 782 years, and had other
sons and daughters. He lived 969 years, and then he died."
(Genesis 5:25-26, NEB).
''Enoch was 65 years old when he begat Methuselah.
After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God for
300 years, and had other sons and daughters. He lived 365
years. Having walked with God, Enoch was seen no more,
because God had taken him away." (Genesis 5:21-24,
There are some other references to Enoch in the Bible.
His name is mentioned in a listing of generations in the
historical book of I Chronicles (1:3) and in the Gospel of
Luke (3:37). The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament
Vy^, Too, Can Walk With God— I
talks about how faith has stood a host of people in good
stead. One of these was Enoch. Hebrews reiterates what
Genesis says about Enoch's walking with God (Hebrews
1 1 :5). Because of the closeness of that walk, he was taken to
another life without experiencing death.
As a result of that statement about Enoch's being trans-
lated into heaven, the belief grew up that he must have had
all the secrets of the heavenly region and the future of human
history disclosed to him. So sometime within the first cen-
tury before the birth of Christ, a book was written that shows
the illuminaries of heaven and predicts the punishment of
the wicked and the rewards of the righteous. The book was
given the name of Enoch. The Book of Enoch is one of those
Jewish writings not included in the Old Testament or the
Apocrypha. It is a part of the Pseudepigrapha, one of the sets
of literature written sometime between the writing of the Old
and New Testaments.
The only other reference to Enoch in the Bible is in the
New Testament Book of Jude. Here Jude quotes about six
verses from the Book of Enoch, which was popular during
his day (85-90 A.D.).
The various translations of the Genesis account put em-
phasis on the fact that Enoch walked with God, that he lived
in fellowship with God, and that he lived close to God.
Because of the fellowship and the closeness of that life-walk,
Enoch ''was not," ''disappeared," "was seen no more,"
for God had taken him away. There is no effort at all on the
part of the Genesis writer to elaborate on the mystery of
death, or to try to define what lies beyond it. He gives us one
great thing to grasp: here was a good man who walked with
God, and goes to be with God forever. He goes to be with
God forever because he has learned to be with him already in
Hubert L. Simpson, an English minister, has in his writ-
ings a lovely paragraph concerning Enoch. "One day
Enoch's place on earth was empty, and the people who
knew him drew their own conclusions. He was known as an
intimate friend of God; and what was more natural than,
when night fell, Enoch should have gone home with his
W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1
A little girl was telling the story of Enoch in her own way.
"Enoch and God," she said, "used to take long walks
together. One day they walked further than usual. And God
said, 'Enoch, you must be tired; come into my house and
One of the most delightful things I anticipate when I go on
vacation is walking. In fact, we spend a lot of our time doing
just that. We prefer the mountains. To others, walking for
miles along the beach lends itself to relaxation and beauty.
Some people walk for health reasons. A heart patient, for
example, walks as part of a doctor's prescription for re-
habilitation. Those of us who have reached middle age walk
on a regular basis to keep our waist lines within reason, as
well as to keep aging muscles in tone. Young adults walk and
jog all over the city or on some track field in order to keep
their youthful bodies in shape. And some people walk sim-
ply because they have no other means of transportation;
they do not drive or they do not own an automobile. So we
walk for a number of reasons.
But back to the delightful walking we anticipate on vaca-
tion. There are some added elements that I enjoy as much as,
and perhaps even more than, the physical exercise itself.
I anticipate, first of all, our unforced, spontaneous con-
versation. I like the talking that goes on as I walk with my
wife, who is my best friend and favorite conversationalist, or
with my children, who tolerate my idle chatter, or with my
friends, who share their lives with me.
The conversations are perhaps more vital than the walk-
ing, for they stimulate affirmation, and understanding, good
feelings and warmth, support and love. Sometimes we walk
in silence, but we feel each other's presence. Words are not
needed at moments when our spirits are so closely meshed
All this says a lot about walking with God in a life of prayer
and daily communion. We can feel his presence, even in
silence. We can pray aloud or with pen and paper. We can
listen through his Word as he tells us about the road, and
what to look for, and what to strive toward.
Another thing I anticipate in walking is a sense of com-
panionship. I have discovered that we human beings are
V^e, Too, Can Walk With God— I
much nicer and more gracious to one another when we are
walking. For example, you let two of us bump into each
other on the sidewalk and we are both usually filled with
apologies. Let us get into our respective automobiles and
then bump into each other; we are filled with something
other than apologies.
On early morning walks here in the city, I have discovered
a few other walkers who are openly friendly and don't hesi-
tate to call out greetings. Even the milkman and the paper
boy share some of the pre-dawn companionship. That isn't
the case when we walk through the downtown mall during
our lunch hour. Perhaps in the early morning there are fewer
of us, and we take time with one another because we realize
our common humanity, our likeness.
Walking with God stimulates that same companionship.
We become so accustomed to his presence that we don't
hesitate to share some of our dreams and disappointments,
some of our ambitions and anxieties, some of our satisfac-
tions and sins with him.
There is a serene and happy sense of companionship in a
life-long walk with God. I feel that Enoch experienced just
that. And that's exactly what each of us can experience.
The conversations we have and the companionship that
we enjoy when we walk together help us to realize that we
also share the same goals in life. It is not just the destination
of our walk, but the outlooks we have on life that become
similar. We move closer together in our philosophy, our
feelings, our sympathies, and our thoughts.
I think so often of that first Easter Sunday afternoon walk
to Emmaus that Luke tells us about (24: 13-22). Cleopas and
his friend are talking about the death of Jesus and how all
their hopes and dreams went down with him. The stranger
who joins them begins to talk about the Scriptures and the
meaning of all that has gone on. When they reach home, they
are so enthralled with him and his knowledge and how he
seems to understand their cause that they plead with him to
stay. They are open to all that he has to say and are amazed
at how they share the same feelings about life. And then they
discover that the stranger was Christ.
A daily, conscious walk with God produces all of these:
W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1
conversion, companionship, and the amazing discovery that
we are moving in his direction, that our goal for our Hves is
becoming one with God's.
I know it was done for chronological purposes, but the
fact that Enoch stands very close to this pulpit has haunted
me ever since I became aware of it. When I look at his image
in that window, it is almost as if he is saying to me: ''If you
dare to stand here, let your constant goal be to walk close to
The eyes of those who sit in the pews and look toward the
pulpit almost inevitably catch a glimpse of Enoch's image.
He must seem to say: ''As you listen to what is proclaimed
from this pulpit, make your goal a daily walk with God."
When I started preparations for this sermon, a song began
to run through my mind. I've hummed it and sung it for
weeks. Basically, it is a secular song since it comes from a
film version of "The Student Prince." It is a prayer the
prince offers as he is about to take over the reins of his
I'll walk with God from this day on,
His helping hand I'll lean upon.
This is my prayer, my humble plea.
May the Lord be ever with me.
There is no death, tho' eyes grow dim,
There is no fear, when I'm near to Him.
I'll lean on Him forever
And He'll forsake me never.
He will not fail me as long as my faith is strong.
Whatever road I may walk along:
I'll walk with God, I'll take His hand,
I'll talk with God, He'll understand;
I'll pray to Him, each day to Him
And He'll hear the words that I say.
His hand will guide my throne and rod.
And I'll never walk alone
While I walk with God.
(Webster and Brodszky)
Like Enoch, God will guide our living and our dying as we
walk with him. And even now, our ordinary days will be
filled with the extraordinary presence of God.
He Didn't Know . . .
But He Went
''Seat me as near Andrew as possible."
When that request is made to an usher at Edenton Street
United Methodist Church, he is automatically aware that the
worshiper wishes to be seated on the right, a little over half
way down. Quite often the seating in the sanctuary is desig-
nated by the Biblical character in the stained glass window.
If we begin in the corner by the pulpit and move around
the sanctuary in a counterclockwise movement, we would
follow these Biblical characters in the chronological order in
which they appear in Scripture. The first window depicts
Enoch, the man who walked closely with God. In the next
window we see Abraham.
The one thing we always seem to remember about Abra-
ham is that he was ' ' the man of faith, ' ' who would launch out
without any guarantee or any security. We think of him as
the sort of person who moved along on blind faith.
The New Testament writer of Hebrews makes Abraham
appear to be a man of unquestioning faith: ''By faith Abra-
ham obeyed the call to go out . . . left home without knowing
where he was to go. By faith he settled as an alien . . . living
in tents." (11:8-9) He left all the basic security of land and
wealth and friends. He gave up the safety of a developed,
civilized country to wander into an unexplored and unde-
veloped area. Abraham was a man of faith.
I do not wish to destroy any illusions that we might have
about Abraham, but quite often I have felt that I could not
identify with him because he supposedly was able to go out
He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2
without knowing what lay ahead. I seem to need some
assurance of how things will turn out before I can venture
Reading the fourteen chapters in the Genesis account of
his life has helped me see Abraham in a new light. I have
discovered that he experienced some of the same things I
experience in my struggle to have faith. I have discovered
that he didn't always trust God to keep his promises, and
quite often launched out on his own because he felt his plan
was better than God's. That's the way I sometimes manage
my affairs. I have found that Abraham vacillated in his faith
the same way I vacillate in mine, that he had ups and downs
just as often as I do.
Knowing the whole story, I no longer hold Abraham at a
distance, nor do I feel that I have nothing in common with
him. Now I can sit down with him and let the Scriptures tell
me what a struggle he had. I can see his times of doubt,
watch him waver, and witness some of his hardheadedness.
I can learn from Abraham how he finally did come to that
time of life when he could, without assurance, move on out.
For sometimes he didn't know, but he went on.
Perhaps the two things we remember best about this Old
Testament man are that he left his home country over in
Western Asia and traveled into Palestine, obeying the voice
of God. And we also recall that he almost killed his son
because he thought God had directed him to make such a
sacrifice. Both of these were high moments in his faithful-
ness, but there were other moments when Abraham showed
his complete lack of faith. So we need to know the whole
story so that it can become our story.
Wandering through the wilderness, on his way from Asia
into Palestine, Abraham often stopped along the way and
built altars to God. Here we can see his characteristic habit
of worship and his faithfulness.
As soon as he arrived in Palestine, Abraham discovered a
terrible famine there. Although God had promised to care
for him and his family, Abraham just couldn't quite believe
that God could save them from starvation. So he packed up
"bag and baggage" and went on down to Egypt, because he
had heard there was plenty of food and water there. He
He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2
exhibited such great faith in leaving home that we are sur-
prised to see his lack of faith when he leaves Palestine
because he doesn't think God can provide for him.
When Abraham reached Egypt, he sank to a low point in
his morality. His wife, Sarah, was so beautiful that he feared
some Egyptian would murder him in order to claim her. So
he passed her off as his sister, deceiving the Pharaoh. He
simply could not quite believe that God would protect him.
He left Egypt and went back to Palestine where his faith
reached another high point. He gave the best portion of the
land to his nephew, Lot. He built an altar to God. When the
inhabitants attacked him, Abraham felt the protection of
God and made a covenant with him.
In that covenant, he pledged obedience to God and was
promised a son to become the leader of his people. But as
time went by, there was no child and Sarah became very
despondent. No longer able to believe that God would ac-
complish his word, she proposed to Abraham that he have a
child by her maid, Hagar. Here again, Abraham, who had
shown such commendable faith, fell short. In accepting
Sarah's plan, he took matters into his own hands, doubting
God's promise and power.
He showed faith when he pleaded with God not to destroy
the city of Sodom. Then his lack of faith reappeared when he
pawned Sarah off again as his sister in order to find favor
with the Philistine king. Abraham finally recognized God's
own consistent faithfulness when his son Isaac was born.
When he thought he was called by God to sacrifice that son,
Abraham was able to respond in perfect obedience. As they
climbed the mountain to make the sacrifice, he responded to
Isaac's probing questions about what they were to sacrifice
by saying, ''God will provide." In the face of that ex-
cruciating test, he exhibited the splendid faith in God that
earned him the name, "A Man of Faith."
Abraham had to struggle to reach that point, to become a
man of faith. He finally reached the goal of all our lives, to
become persons of faith. However, his conflicts show us
that there are no simple techniques and no easy gimmicks.
Abraham lets us know that we don't just walk into church
He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2
and take faith off a shelf, ready to wear. For faith is not a
commodity. It is a venture.
About twenty years ago, a Jewish rabbi wrote a book, now
out of print, entitled. The Power of Faith. He began by
telling about a man who came to see him because he had
''nothing to live for." To the rabbi, the man appeared to
have everything: financial resources, community standing,
position, and power.
''You are in the house of God," the rabbi said to the man.
"Give yourself over to the grace of his peace."
The man's eyes flashed with bitterness. "The same old
bunk," he retorted. "You guys tell us to have faith in God
and presto, all our troubles are over and life is beautiful
forever. I won't find any help here." He got up and reached
for his hat.
The rabbi grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.
"You are going to help yourself," he said. "You have ac-
cess to a great storehouse of dynamic power, but you have
not been using it. You have a storehouse of faith."
The man looked at the rabbi with contempt. "If I possess
such a storehouse, would I have come to you? Sure, I need
it. But how do I get it. Where can I find it?"
In answer, the rabbi told him an old Chinese tale. A little
fish overheard a conversation between two fishermen. One
of them said to the other: " Have you ever stopped to think of
how essential water is to life? Without water, our earth
would dry up. Everything living would die." The little fish
became panic-stricken when he heard that. "I must find
some water at once. If I don't, I'll be dead in a few days." So
he went swimming away as fast as he could. Where could he
find water? He asked the other fish in the lake, but they
didn't know. He swam out into a larger lake, but no fish
there could tell him where to find water. He went to the
river, but still no luck. He finally reached the ocean. There,
in the deepest part of the ocean, he found an old and wise
fish. "Where can I find water?" he gasped. The old fish
chuckled: "Water? Why, you are in it right now. You were
in it back home in your own lake. You have never been out of
it since the day you were born."
He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2
So it is with faith. We don't find complete, unquestioning
faith. We can't buy it. We don't just put it on, ready-to-wear.
We begin by using what little faith we already have.
Abraham used what faith he had every time he started out
on a venture. Sometimes he didn't have much, or it didn't
seem so by the way he responded to God. Sometimes he lost
what he had because he was fearful and distrusting. But
there were other times when he used what faith he had until
finally it was so strengthened that he became ''A Man of
We don't find faith or buy it. We use what we have. It is
like children learning to walk, developing a capacity with
which they were born. Children are born with the ability to
talk, but they have to learn how. Teachers cannot give
children intelligence. Teachers help children use their innate
intelligence. Children cannot be given music, but learn to
express the music they possess.
We are born with faith. Whether or not we develop that
faith is up to us. Too often we either fail to develop it, or else
the little faith we do have is diminished. For example, there
is nothing more trusting than a child, but we usually con-
centrate on teaching the child fear instead of trust: knives
will cut you, cats will scratch you, dogs will bite you, fire will
burn you, automobiles will run over you, water will drown
you, disobedience will bring punishment to you. How many
of us have overheard a parent say to a little child: 'Tf you
don't stop crying, I'll let that policeman over there put you in
a dark jail!"
A scientific article some time ago declared that all normal
children possess qualities of genius. Mediocrity only occurs
in later life. Therefore, all children are geniuses, but almost
no adults are. What happens? No one loses his mental
capacity. It simply dies from disuse.
Abraham never lost his faith during all those years of
vacillating. When he failed to use it, it became dormant.
How can I get faith? Where can I find it? We don't get it or
find it. We use what we have. The only place to find faith is
within ourselves. The only way to find it is to look for it. And
the only way to strengthen it is to use it.
I haven't spent any time in this sermon trying to define
He Pidnt Know . . . But He Went— 2
faith. If we need a definition, I think the Hfe of Abraham
gives us one. Faith is a venture. Faith is a venture that begins
when we take a chance that God is — that God is good, that
God cares for us, that God cares about us, and that in Jesus
Christ God has revealed to us a pattern for Hfe and given us
the power to Hve by that pattern.
Faith is a venture. We cannot approach it in the mood of a
mother whose son was going off to camp for the first time.
"Now don't you go near the water until you learn to swim
properly," she cautioned him. We used to sing at Scout
Camp a funny little ditty: "Oh, you can't go to heaven in a
rocking chair — 'cause you'll rock right by that golden
stair." We have to get out of the chair and into the water, for
faith is a venture.
Abraham's story declares what a venture it is. The Scrip-
tures let us know what a hard time he had with himself.
Going ahead in faith, he came to a deep sense of his purpose,
of the meaning of his life.
We don't find faith in a list of propositions, or a book of
theology, or even in the Bible. We venture out, using what
faith we have. And in that venture we find proof, and pur-
pose, and meaningfulness.
I am very grateful to Abraham. I'm grateful because he
teaches me a great lesson. He teaches me to use what ordi-
nary faith I have in the extraordinary venture of Christian
Genesis 37:1-50; 26
Come Near Me
Some months ago I attended a seminar for funeral direc-
tors and clergymen. We spent three hours listening to and
questioning a theologian. He spoke out of his years of expe-
rience in working with bereaved families in order to help us
to be more effective in our ministry to the sorrowing. He
gave us a lot of sound advice and affirmed some of the ways
in which we now go about this part of the ministry.
Right in the midst of his lecture he made reference to a
seminar he and a famous psychologist had conducted. "I
was awed by the thought of working with such a famous
person," he told us. ''I had read and devoured everything he
had written. He was my hero. And then I made the mistake
of meeting him. So don't ever meet your hero."
The theologian did not elaborate on the comment about
his fallen hero, but he indicated that his idol did not live up to
his image of him.
The Bible is a remarkably honest book. It never tries to
whitewash any of its heroes, to put them on pedestals such
as the one on which this theologian had placed the psycholo-
gist. In fact, the Bible's honesty is almost embarrassing. We
feel self-conscious when it goes into detail about some of the
unpleasant aspects of their lives, or shows their eccen-
tricities, or simply calls ''a spade a spade" in telling about
their immoral escapades.
In this series of sermons on the Biblical characters de-
picted in these stained glass windows, we find that the Bible
tells all. It glosses over none of their stories. Not only does it
let us see the pretty aspects of their relationship to God, but
also it shows us all the ways in which they weaken and
diminish that relationship.
I don't think the Bible, or any other book, tells of a more
arrogant, conceited, and difficult young man than Joseph.
The writer of those fourteen chapters in Genesis, in which
Come Near Me — 3
Joseph is the central figure, brings ahve Joseph's less desir-
able qualities as well as his greatness and glory.
When I think of Joseph, I think of how I enjoy looking at
pictures of remodeled homes. It is interesting to see the
contrast between the before and after. I've noticed that
health clubs and reducing gadgets often show a picture of the
overweight candidate who enters the club or buys the
gadget, and then the slenderized, satisfied customer. This
may have been what the Genesis writer had in mind when he
let us see the ''before and after" of Joseph.
In the thirty-seventh chapter of Genesis, we discover this
conceited, arrogant, boastful, tactless young man. Thor-
oughly spoiled by a doting father who showered every sort
of kindness and luxury on him, Joseph reveled in an ex-
istence which made no demands on him. He dreamed about
how great he was. He even dreamed of how much greater he
was than his eleven brothers. He dreamed he was so great
that not only did his family bow down to him, but also ''the
sun and the moon, and even the stars" worshiped him.
Joseph didn't just dream; he believed his dreams. He hurried
after each one to tell his father and his mother, who were
dismayed at their arrogant son. When his brothers heard his
dreams, their admiration and affection for him quickly
We can see very clearly what his brothers thought of
young Joseph. The first time they caught him away from
their father, the vote was ten to one to kill him on the spot.
Reuben, the sensitive one, talked them out of that. He
suggested dumping him into a well. The brothers agreed,
anticipating his slow, agonizing death-by-hunger. That
would take care of any ideas of greatness he had. However,
a passing caravan of traders on its way to Egypt gave the
brothers a chance to make some money as well as get rid of
Joseph. So they sold their arrogant, immature, difficult
younger brother into slavery.
We know this story well from Sunday School. We re-
member reading or hearing how the brothers took Joseph's
many-colored coat when they sold him and sprinkled it with
the blood of a goat. They took the coat to their father,
reporting that they had found it and thus surmised that
Come Near Me — 3
Joseph had been torn apart and eaten by a wild animal.
We've now seen Joseph before his experience down in the
well, before he was sold into slavery by his brothers. But a
new Joseph developed in Egypt. The arrogant and boastful
young man became the humble, teachable, hardworking,
willing, serving, mature leader.
He endeared himself to the Egyptian people, willing to
serve others whether it be Potiphar, a government official,
or Pharaoh, the king, or the jailer, or the baker, or the butler.
He became a trustworthy man who was confident, but not
Joseph never betrayed the trust that any of his superiors
placed in him. Genesis 39 shows a classic illustration of the
opportunity he had to deceive Potiphar.
Joseph was such a handsome young man that Potiphar' s
wife took a sensual interest in him. A determined woman,
she did her best to get Joseph involved in a sexual relation-
ship. When his integrity won out, the official's wife gave
false evidence at his trial. He was neither believed nor
commended for his trustworthiness but was sent to jail on
the word of a seductress.
Even in prison, Joseph never reverted to his old charac-
ter. We recall how he interpreted the dreams of an impris-
oned butler and baker, and how the scuttlebutt in the staff
carried this story to Pharaoh. Joseph was even called to the
oval office one day to interpret the strange dreams the king
had been having. From then on, over the next nine years, he
was placed in charge of the Egyptian social service, which
he guided well.
When famine spread over all the known world, Egypt was
prepared because of Joseph's sound policies. That country
found itself selling grain to Syria and Asia and Palestine. The
day came when the famine drove Joseph's brothers from
their home in Canaan to Egypt to buy supplies. It never
crossed their minds that the minister of internal affairs in
Egypt was their brother. If Joseph had been the same Joseph
they had known, they would have been ''goners." He was
not the same brash, self-centered person. He had changed.
Saint Paul would say that when Joseph became a man, he put
away childish things.
Come Near Me — 3
A study in contrasts, in how human relationships can
change when people have matured, is evident in Joseph's
reception of those brothers when they stood before him. We
cannot fail to be gripped by the emotion of the scene in which
he says: ''I am your brother . . . come closer." Here was his
opportunity, his chance to let them know that he was still the
favored one, and that he hadn't forgotten what they'd done
to him. He could have so easily, out of revenge, reverted to
the arrogant and proud Joseph they had known. He had
wealth, success, position. He had once dreamed that they
would bow down to him, and here they were, right in his
grasp. For the mature Joseph none of this was necessary. He
had learned to keep wealth, success, power and fame in
proper perspective. He never surrendered his soul to any of
these. His response to God had made him aware of what life
is about, and how love and affection make it strong and
It was only after the death of their father, their one secu-
rity in their relationship with Joseph, that the brothers them-
selves matured. After the funeral they lied to Joseph, saying
that their father had left a clause in his will specifically
asking that he not try to get even with them, that he forgive
them. Joseph rose to the very height of his spiritual maturity
when he told them, "You don't have to lie to me — nor
should you fear me — for God has changed my life."
I don't think Joseph's story would be in the Book of
Genesis had he not changed. I feel sure the window would
have someone else's image if Joseph had remained as his
brothers first remembered him. I think he is there as an
example of the ''before and after" that can take place in our
lives, once we allow God to help us mature.
The windows in the sanctuary were placed in chronologi-
cal order, the sequence in which they appear in scripture.
We know that for a fact. I find that their sequence also has
spiritual overtones. Enoch, the first Old Testament charac-
ter, is a symbol of our need to make constant awareness of
God's presence our goal, to walk with him day by day.
Standing next to him is Abraham, who seems to say, ''Never
give up that goal, even though you vacillate between God
and yourself. Use what faith you have. Keep venturing out. I
Come Near Me — 3
did, and discovered that each venture strengthened my
faith.'' Then there is Joseph whose Hfe points out how God
helps us mature when we keep Enoch's goal before us and
venture forth like Abraham.
The things I used to remember about Joseph were so
insignificant: his technicolor coat, his opportunity to have
an affair, his fame and importance as a government official.
Living through the whole Genesis account as I've pre-
pared this sermon has helped me discover that the most
significant event of Joseph's life was his encounter with his
betrayers when he said, ''Come near to me, I pray you."
Those are the words God utters to each of us. Maybe it isn't
coincidental that standing in the next window is Christ, the
shepherd. He said some similar words: ''Come to me, all
you who are tired of carrying heavy loads of self-interest,
self-concern, self-righteousness, and I will give you life that
sees beyond self. Come to me and I will refresh and rejuve-
nate you. Come to me and I will link you with a power
beyond yourself and show you how to live life to its fullest. ' '
Only those of us who recognize our need will pay attention
to this invitation. If we are content, we'll stay where we are
and as we are. It's like the young man who, eager to be on
time at his first day of work, tripped and fell on the sidewalk
right in front of a bench where all the town loafers were
sitting. He got up and dusted himself off amid the laughter of
the witnesses seated on the bench. "Go ahead and laugh at
me," he said to them. "None of you will ever fall because
you're never going anywhere."
"To come," to begin a new life, involves risk. Not to
come produces only one certainty — the certainty that we
will remain immune to the way of life God has shown in
Christ. The tragedy is that many of us appear here Sunday
after Sunday and never hear the call, "Come near me."
If that exciting call reaches our inner being, then we can
begin to live as God turns our ordinary immaturity and
arrogance into extraordinary maturity and love for others.
He Sees Something
in Each of Us
My invitation from the elementary class read, ''You are
invited to our production." The class had been studying the
Old Testament story of Moses. The special day arrived, and
we parents were ushered to our seats. The narrator began,
' There was a man named Moses . ' ' Then for the next twenty
minutes, through the narrator and the dressed-up charac-
ters, we heard and saw again from those fifth graders the
fascinating story of Moses.
I imagine all of us remember something about this man.
He was the prophet who led the Hebrew people out of Egypt
and helped them escape from the Pharaoh. He was the
lawgiver who received the Ten Commandments from God.
In fact, condensed into this one person are the figures of
priest, judge, intercessor, victor, exile, fugitive, shepherd,
guide, healer, miracle worker, rebel, man of God. We read
his story in the Book of Exodus. Over in the Book of
Deuteronomy, we can read the same story as it's told in the
In this series of sermons on the people depicted in the
stained glass windows at Edenton Street United Methodist
Church, we've found that they not only appear in
chronological sequence, but each story builds upon the one
it follows. In the Joseph story, we discovered the Hebrews
moving to Egypt because of a famine. Because of Joseph's
fame as prime minister, they were favored immigrants. They
had a special section of Egypt, a reservation, on which to
live. They were free to mix with the Egyptians and move
about the country without any restrictions. This kind of
privileged citizenship lasted as long as Joseph and the
Pharaoh whom he served lived.
When a new king came to the throne of Egypt, he knew
very little about the late prime minister Joseph or any former
promises to the Hebrew immigrants. His concern was their
He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4
over-population and intermingling with the Egyptians. He
took immediate steps to restrict the Hebrews' freedom and
decreed that they were to be slaves of his nation. Then he
increased the number of hours in their work day and multi-
plied their work load. Forcing them to rebuild whole cities,
at the same time this determined king did everything he
could to impede the Hebrews' brick-building industry. De-
spite being made to increase the agricultural output also and
being oppressed in every conceivable way, the Hebrews'
population continued to grow, to the Pharaoh's dismay . As a
drastic measure to cut down the birthrate, he ordered every
newborn Hebrew boy to be drowned in the Nile River.
These were sad times for the descendants of Joseph. Parents
tried to hide their babies, but their homes were invaded and
their infants put to death.
This is where the story of Moses begins. He was born in
Egypt in the midst of these oppressive days. His parents
were Hebrews, which meant that as soon as his birth was
discovered, he too would be killed. They were able to hide
him in the house for three months, but then it became impos-
sible to conceal him. In desperation his mother water-
proofed a basket, put him in it, and let it float down the river.
She was hoping one of the Egyptian women would find the
basket and take the baby as her own. That was his only
The basket was discovered by the daughter of the
Pharaoh. Moses was not only safe; he became an Egyptian
prince. He had the best education, the best clothing and
food, and the highest privileges one could enjoy.
One day Moses lost his temper when he saw an Egyptian
soldier beating a Hebrew slave. Furious, he attacked and
killed the soldier, and then fearful for his own life, he ran
away. He went a long way from Egypt and lived out in the
desert. There he became a shepherd, married, had children,
and settled down to a quiet, easy life. As far as Moses was
concerned, he was through with Egyptians and Hebrews.
Although he must have been haunted by his memories,
plagued with his sense of failure, and worried about the
plight of his people, Moses didn't think he personally
He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4
counted for much. He felt God could take care of things
quite well without him.
One day when he was in the wilderness tending to his
father-in-law's sheep, Moses met God at that famous burn-
ing bush. We make a mistake in thinking all the Biblical
characters we see depicted in these windows were obedient
to God from the very moment they felt his presence; they
were not. Moses is a typical example. He stood there that
day and argued with God. The bush fascinated him, but it did
not convince him. When Moses felt in his heart that God was
speaking to him, telling how his people were crumbling
under the oppression of Egypt, he thought to himself: "I
already know that and have been trying to forget it. This is
not one of my good days. My conscience must be acting
God's presence kept gnawing at him. Moses felt he must
be hallucinating when he thought God was telling him to do
something about the enslaved people. Moses was not a
volunteer. He did not want to be a liberator. He was an
unwilling draftee for the task God mapped out for him, and
an unlikely candidate at that.
He began his self-defense in a very humble way, "God,
you know I'm a nobody. How can I go to the king and bring
the Hebrews out of Egypt? I feel sure if you were to search
around, you would find some qualified person. There are a
lot of folks who would delight in carrying out such a job and
who would like all the prestige connected with a mass ex-
odus. I'm just not the person for the job."
That argument held little water with God, and Moses
realized it. He launched into his second defense. 'T'll go and
do as you say, God, but you know those stubborn Hebrews.
They won't believe a word I say. They won't even listen.
Nothing will convince them that you sent me." Then God
gave Moses some credentials, so that when he got to Egypt,
he could present proof that he was on a divine mission.
Moses wondered what defense he could offer next. He
realized that God had enough faith in him to carry out the
task. Nevertheless, he made one more attempt to get out of
it. "Lord, please don't send me. I'm not a good speaker and
He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4
never have been. I have a speech impediment. You know I
lisp. I get tongue-tied. My words get all mixed up when I'm
excited. Please, send somebody else."
Now here we can really feel a sense of kinship with
Moses. Moses argued with God about his plan for him. We
don't always argue, but we are often convinced that God can
not possibly need us to carry out his plans. Not us!
We know the rest of the story. Moses went to Egypt. He
had a difficult time with Pharaoh. Nothing seemed to con-
vince the king that God was determined to free his people.
God's efforts have been very vividly portrayed in the
movie, 'The Ten Commandments." The walking stick
turning into a snake, the Nile becoming a river of blood, the
frogs and flies, the lice and grasshoppers, the boils and
hailstorm, and the death angel are described as God's ways
of convincing that stubborn king to let his people go.
Finally, the Hebrews were released. They started out and
every time they felt defeated, Moses urged them to keep
going. The Red Sea miraculously opened for them. They
discovered food in the desert. Miracles were not the whole
story, however; they turned to idol worship whenever
Moses left them for a respite. Most of the forty years they
spent arguing with Moses about their difficulties and claim-
ing he took them away from the security of ''the good old
days" back in Egypt. At times they made him so angry that
he lost control of his temper. In spite of all the obstacles,
Moses never argued with God again about being needed. His
discovery that God did need him carried Moses through
thick and thin, dangers and difficulties, misunderstanding,
hardship, and discouragement. Moses did not consider him-
self a person of value, but God did. ^
That may be the reason he stands here in sequence with
these other Biblical characters. Enoch is a testimony of what
it means to live with a steady sense of God's presence.
Abraham urges us to stop getting concerned about making
giant steps and to venture out every day with what faith we
have. Joseph shows us how an awareness of God can move
us away from self-centeredness. Then there is Moses, who
seems to say, "You may not think you are much or have
much to offer, but each of you counts with God. He sees
He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4
something in every one of you, whether you stand in the
pulpit, or sing in the choir, or sit in the pew. You are of
One morning soon after I arrived at work, a young man
was waiting in the office. ''I need some help; Fm hungry,"
were his opening words. We spent a few minutes together,
and I discovered he was supposedly on his way to Florida.
He was twenty-eight years old, had been married and
divorced, and was estranged not only from his wife, but also
from his parents. I began to fill out a meal ticket.
''God just doesn't care any more," he said. And then I
jumped down his theological throat. I became as impatient
with him as Moses had been with those complaining
Hebrews. ''If God doesn't care, why do you think you're in
a church? Why does this congregation give me means of
helping you when it doesn't even know you? Maybe you're
the one who doesn't care any more." My response so
startled him that he made as quick an exit as possible. He left
with the meal ticket, and I hope, with a knowledge of who
was being careless.
A young woman went to a counselor because she was
having difficulty coping with all the pressures in her life. She
needed supportive help. She felt she was not fitting into
God's pattern for her. Maybe as the result of the counselor's
frustration, or perhaps as shock therapy, one day that coun-
selor said to her, "If you don't respond to God, he'll drop
you and go on to find someone who will . " She has since been
haunted by the thought of being abandoned by God and has
tried to do things to prove her merit. She feels that God may
leave her if she puts up one argument with him. That was not
good therapy for that young lady. She needs to know that
she is valued in spite of her own self-devaluation.
I used to skip over every list of names that I ran across
reading in the Bible. I couldn't pronounce them, and I didn't
think those genealogies added to my Biblical knowledge.
Now I've decided that I'm glad the writers included those
names. I think one of their reasons was to show how God
values the individual. That is one of the wonders of his love.
He loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.
A child was being taught the Lord's Prayer in Sunday
He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4
School. She was proud to be able to use it at home that night
when her parents were tucking her in bed. She wasn't quite
clear about the first phrase. Instead of praying, ''Our Fa-
ther, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name," she came
out with, ''Our Father, who are in heaven, how do you know
my name?" That little girl was using good theology, for,
wonder of wonders, God knows each of us individually, by
name, and he knows the story of our lives.
We live in a society that is growing more and more imper-
sonal. We are known, not by name, but by Social Security
and credit card numbers. Even the bank gives us a number
instead of a name. The value of the individual is taking a
terrible beating. Automation, computerization, population
control, and legal abortion all contribute to making the indi-
vidual feel unneeded and unwanted.
The right to be born is questioned. I read a church news-
letter which declared that the individual is dispensable. The
writer suggested that if we feel we are indispensable, we
should put one hand into a bucket of water and splash it
around. The hole that is left in the water when we take our
hand out is a measure of our worth. "So you see," the writer
concluded, "you really don't count for much." That may be
true for society in general, but it is not true in our relation-
ship with God. With God, each of us is indispensable. God
needed Moses. When he discovered and accepted the as-
tonishing truth that God needed and valued him, he re-
sponded obediently. Whenever we look at his image, let's
remember that God called him by name. God calls each of us
by name, whether it be Margaret, or Harold, or Sue, or Joe,
or Alice, or John. He calls us by name because he sees
something good and noble and fine in each of us. The won-
derful truth is that God needs and values us. He calls us and
then uses our ordinary inadequacies for his extraordinary
I Samuel 16:1-30:13
II Samuel 1:1-24:25
I Kings 1:1-2:11
A Man After God's Own Heart
There was a very interesting article in the editorial section
of the Raleigh News and Observer on November 1, 1977.
Written by Judy Bolch, it emphasized that we need to admit
that we tell lies, that falsehood really exists. Because we
have refused to do so, we have merged "black and white into
an unreliable gray." Husbands who desert the home are not
faithless; they are entangled in mid-life crisis. Children who
get F's in school do not fail; they underachieve. A dead man,
hands tied behind his back and a knife in his throat, has not
been murdered; some poor misguided soul, obviously
driven by forces beyond his control, stumbled and stabbed
him. Manufacturers do not lie when they insert the engine of
one model car beneath the hood of another; it is an error of
judgment. Characters on soap operas have been rationaliz-
ing their misdeeds for years. Miss Bolch called for a
reinstatement of the lie, a confession of sin instead of double
talk. She concluded by saying how glorious an open confes-
sion can be: ''I lied. Let me tell you the truth."
The article made me think of Dr. Karl Menninger's book.
Whatever Became of Sin?, and the Old Testament king,
Our Duke Divinity School intern who is working with our
youth has asked me more than once if I intended to tell all
when I get to the David window in this series of sermons. I
admire the Bible's honesty. The open truth can be embar-
rassing, especially when the scriptures go into detail on the
unpleasant aspects of the lives of these people. Abraham
wasn't always ''the faithful one." At times he did have
unquestioning faith in God, but there were other times when
he wasn't sure God knew what was going on. Joseph wasn't
exactly the "ideal young man" we remember him to be.
Moses did not jump up and immediately start out on God's
A Man After God's Own Heart — 5
mission. He put up some strong arguments, for he simply did
not want his life disturbed.
Secular history has not been quite as honest with its
heroes. In fact, it has only been in recent years that we have
read of the eccentric characteristics and immoral escapades
of past heroes. Unfortunately, the modern biographies have
been more exploitative than enlightening. The Biblical writ-
ers were more ethical. Their honesty shows us readers that
life is not departmentalized but is all under the watchcare of
God. We are allowed to see these people in their struggles
toward affirming God as the source of their being. That
makes them real, like us, because we, too, struggle.
Once there was this man named David. He was a king, but
that is not all that he was. He was a shepherd, a soldier, a
part-time musician, a poet, an outlaw, a revolutionist, a
hired mercenary. David had a variety of careers. He seemed
to do well in all of them. In fact, he did so well as king that he
became a symbol of the Golden Age of Israel.
According to the story, written in I and II Samuel, God
promised David that his name would be remembered forever
and the good and victorious kingdom he had established
would be eternal. After David's death, whenever difficulties
came or adversities fell upon the people of Israel, the poets
and prophets would plead with God not to forget his prom-
ises to the descendants of that noble king. Out of rabbinic
teaching the idea grew that the Messiah, who would bring
back that Golden Age, would come from the royal line of
David. That's why the Gospel of Matthew traces the geneal-
ogy of Jesus back to David.
David threw a long shadow across the history of his peo-
ple. Fifty-five pages of the Bible, a book and a half, are
devoted to his story.
We first meet him as a shepherd boy. There are two very
romantic stories of how he won the favor of Saul, who was
then king of Israel. One story says that Saul suffered from
periods of severe depression. When it became impossible
for him to function because of this, Saul would retreat to his
chambers. He wanted someone to play a harp to soothe his
jangled nerves. David, one of the eight sons of Jesse, was
chosen for the job. Saul grew to love and depend on David.
A Man After God's Own Heart — 5
He kept him close by his side, choosing him to be the one to
carry his weapons.
The other story of how Saul and David became acquainted
is the one we know best. The Philistines and the Israelites
were at war. The leader of the Philistine army, Goliath, was
a giant of a man. Every soldier in Israel was afraid of him. In
fact, his presence immobilized the whole Israelite army.
Three of David's brothers were in that army, and their father
sent David to the campsite with some bread and cheese for
them. Goliath was, as usual, making fun of the Israelite
soldiers. David didn't like to hear his country's military
forces being intimidated and insulted, so he asked permis-
sion to fight the giant. We recall the slingshot and the smooth
stone that hit Goliath between the eyes, knocking him down,
making David the victor.
This made the young shepherd boy a national hero. His
popularity overshadowed King Saul's, and that became a
problem. The more victories David had, the more jealous
Saul became. Saul's jealousy led to deep depression, and
finally the situation became so intolerable that David had to
Now David was a fugitive. The Robin Hood of Israel, he
organized a very effective gang of outlaws, undefeatable by
When Saul died, David was declared king. He was thirty-
seven years old and stayed in office for the next thirty-three
years. Those were glorious times for his country. Her boun-
daries were extended. Her foreign relationships were
strengthened by trade and tribute. Her wealth was greater
than it had ever been. It really was the Golden Age for the
Hebrew people. After all their wanderings from Egypt to
Palestine, long periods of unrest with no leader, and those
rough years of Saul's rule, they had finally inherited the land
of milk and honey. A descendant of the Hebrews would have
referred to the days of David as ''the good old days."
David's personal life, however, was a strange and com-
plex one. He was an odd mixture. Although he was suc-
cessful as a king, he could not manage his own household.
He had more trouble with his children than any one ought to
have. Their lives were marred by rape, incest, murder, and
A Man After God's Own Heart— 5
insurrection. His son Absalom led such a violent revolt
against his own father that David was forced to hide away
from the capital city.
He could control a country, but he didn't seem to be able
to make a success of his marriage. In order to marry Michal,
the daughter of Saul , David killed four hundred Philistines in
battle. When his wife expressed disgust at his unkingly
manner of dancing in the streets of Jerusalem, their com-
munications were so poor that he had her exiled, where she
died rejected and alone. Can you believe that this is the man
to whom we attribute the lines of Psalm 23?
He was an autocrat, a tyrant, a dictator. And yet, he could
accept rebuke and acknowledge his sinfulness — and re-
pent. Perhaps the darkest and best-known chapter of his life
concerns a very faithful soldier named Uriah and Uriah's
wife, Bathsheba. It is a tale of lust and treachery. David and
Bathsheba had an affair. When David discovered that
Bathsheba was pregnant, he tried to shift the responsibility
to her husband. When that plan failed, he had Uriah put in an
exposed position in battle, so that his death was inevitable.
After Uriah's death, David married Bathsheba. Israel had
an outspoken prophet who did not hesitate to confront
David with his lust and treachery. When Nathan called the
king to confess his sinfulness, David did so and asked for-
giveness. Psalm 51 is one of his prayers of confession.
St. Paul, centuries after David's time, addressed some
Jews in Antioch (Acts 13:13-41). In his talk, he reviewed all
the highlights of Israel's history. He reminded his listeners
of Samuel, the great prophet, and of King Saul. Then he
said, ''God set up David as their king, giving him approval in
these words: 'I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man
after my own heart, who will carry out all my purposes.' "
That seems to be a strange affirmation in light of what we
know about David. How could anyone who is an outlaw, a
liar, a revolutionist, a murderer, and an adulturer be ''a man
after God's own heart?" That turns all our ways of evaluat-
ing conduct upside down. Didn't God know David? How
could such a rascal fit into any divine plan? He was certainly
not a good man as we count goodness. Why was it written of
David alone that he was ''a man after God's own heart?"
A Man After God's Own Heart — 5
Maybe it was his honesty. When he was confronted with
his sinfulness, he did not try to justify what he had done, or
rationaHze it, or even whine about it. David heard Nathan
out when he confronted him about the Bathsheba affair.
David did not try to say it was something other than what it
was. He did not say, ''But, Nathan, you do not know what
terrific pressure I have been under. I just couldn't control
what I did." David was honest in saying simply and directly,
"You are right. I have sinned." Perhaps we need some of
that honesty ourselves.
Maybe David was singled out because of his tenderness.
Once he hid in a cave to escape the vengeance of King Saul.
Saul came into the cave but did not see David or his men
hiding in the darkness. Here was a chance to get rid of the
king, but David would not allow any harm to be done to Saul.
Even when the king was killed in battle, David would not let
the news out in enemy territory because he didn't want any
rejoicing. In spite of all that Saul had done to him, David
loved him and showed him tenderness and understanding.
Perhaps we need to replace some of our vengeance with
David could have been called ''a man after God's own
heart" because of the sheer bigness of his spirit. He seemed
to be free from any petty resentment and vindictiveness. He
was generous in forgiving the insults heaped on him by Saul.
Sometimes he had difficulty not getting provoked at home,
but he never seemed to harbor ill thoughts even when his son
rebelled against him. St. Peter writes that ''Love covers a
multitude of sins." I think Franklin Roosevelt was right
when he said, "The sins of the warmhearted and the sins of
the coldblooded are weighed on different scales." Maybe
we need to be less negative and more generous.
Or perhaps David was so designated because he kept
coming back to God. He never made it to Enoch's level of
sainthood. He lived with his sensuality and deceit, and never
blamed God for the sins he committed or said, "The devil
made me do it." He took the responsibility, struggling to
hold on to his faith.
After the Bathsheba episode he prayed, "Be merciful to
me, O God, because of your steadfast love. Because of your
A Man After God\s Own Heart — 5
great mercy wipe away all my sins! Wash away all my evil
and make me clean from my sin/' (Psalm 51:1-2) Maybe
we, as wayward as we are, need to keep coming back to
God, constantly aware of our need for renewal.
I think God understood David better than we do. A queen
of England once remarked primly and severely, ''David is
not the kind of person with whom I wish to associate." I
guess not. He would have frightened Victoria to death. But
his story is in the Bible, and Paul says he was ''a man after
God's own heart." He lied and murdered and committed
adultery. I don't understand how Paul could make such a
statement, but I don't understand God's thoughts. He sees
beyond what we see. So maybe he also understood David
better than we do. And aren't we glad to have a God, and a
man of God like Paul, who understand each of us better than
we understand ourselves, better than those about us under-
Once there was a man named David. He was a king, but
that is not all. He was a rascal. He was a sinner, but also a
singer of bittersweet songs. He was honest and tender and
generous and repentant. He was a man after God's own
heart, an ordinary sinner who somehow was extraordinary
in God's eyes.
Maybe there's a chance for us!
Expect Christ Now!
Who is the most popular preacher today? If we were to
take a poll of any segment of American society, I believe
Billy Graham would be selected. He is world-famous. He
has preached practically everywhere and to the largest con-
gregations ever assembled in modern times. He has written
books, and books have been written about him. He has been
received by the British Parliament, the Congress of the
United States, and a host of other governmental bodies. He
has been called the President's preacher, especially during
the administrations of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and
Gerald Ford. There is no doubt that Billy Graham is the best-
known and most popular preacher of our day.
There was another preacher who lived about 700 years
before the birth of Jesus whom we might call the ''Billy
Graham" of his day. He was popular in the sense that he was
well-known, because he had access to all the kings of his
country and advised them on the affairs of state and moved
in and out of the most prestigious places. His name was
Isaiah. He can be seen in the last window on the right as you
leave the sanctuary of Edenton Street United Methodist
When we look through the Bible, we find a book that
carries Isaiah's name and was presumably written by him. In
reading Isaiah, we discover that it would be more accurate to
assume that it was written by the prophets Isaiah. Students
of the Old Testament know that the Biblical material under
the name Isaiah comes from three different persons. They
are frequently called First Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and Third
Isaiah. The one responsible for the main portion of the book
is the first prophet. Chapters one through thirty-nine are
attributed to him. I think the workman who fashioned the
Expect Christ Now! — 6
stained glass window had this Isaiah in mind. The streamer
across his chest reading, 'The Lord Of Hosts," indicates
this because fifty-six times that prophet uttered those
Isaiah's main concern was the awful gap that existed
between the hoHness of God and the corruption he saw
among his people as they went about their daily affairs. He
believed that every corrupt thing an individual or a group did
was caused by the attitude of the heart. If what's in the heart
is corrupt, he said, all of life will be corrupt.
This was the same story the people had heard from Amos
and Hosea, two prophets who preceded Isaiah. It was
nothing new, so they didn't listen. It was just a preacher
preaching. Isaiah tried a number of ways to get them to
listen. He tried some unusual techniques to get his message
One time he went up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
singing a popular fertility song. ''My beloved has a vineyard
on a very fertile hill" were familiar words to the people of
that century. They knew the music and the implication of all
the words. Since it wasn't the kind of song a preacher would
be singing, it attracted their attention. If, some Sunday
morning, I proceeded down the aisle singing one of those
"suggestive" songs that are popular now it would attract
your attention. It would be unusual enough for me to pro-
ceed alone singing, but if the song included words like,
"When we get behind closed doors, when she lets her hair
hang down, when she makes me glad that I'm a man," this
congregation would come to ramrod attention. That was the
reason Isaiah paraded up and down the city streets — to
attract attention, to alert the people. And the song he sang
had enough sexual suggestions to catch their interest.
Suddenly, right in the middle of his song, Isaiah changed
the words. Instead of singing what his audience knew, Isaiah
was saying: "The grapes of the vineyard grew wild and sour,
and not the sweet ones the beloved had planted." Having
the attention of his listeners, he continued: "This is what
God's people have done. You were his pleasant acreage. He
expected you to yield a crop of justice, but he found blood-
Expect Christ Now! — 6
shed. He expected righteousness, but you have not lived up
to those expectations."
On two other occasions, Isaiah made spectacular use of
his own children. Ahaz, the king of Judah, was afraid other
countries would invade and overthrow his tiny country, so
he began to build up protective forces. The Lord told Isaiah
to convince Ahaz and the people that the country of Judah
would never be utterly destroyed. With this in mind, Isaiah
gave his eldest son a name meaning ''A remnant will return
to God." Anyone who inquired about that strange name
heard a sermon from Isaiah on the love God had for the
Hebrew nation and why it was so necessary to change their
hearts, their inner attitudes.
Isaiah gave another child a name worse than his brother's.
' ' Speeding to the spoil , Hastening to the prey" was the name
this child was saddled with. King Ahaz was considering an
alliance with some other countries for defense purposes.
Isaiah tried to warn him that it wouldn't work; it would break
down and hasten Judah' s destruction. In order to attract the
attention of the king and the people to the danger of such a
negotiation, he would, on introducing that child, call for
There was one other thing Isaiah did to get his message
before the people. All the southern nations were forming a
political agreement. They were banding together and pool-
ing their resources so that they might have a strong defense
against the powerful nation of Assyria. Egypt was one of
those southern nations joining the alliance, and Isaiah knew
that she was, at the same time, making plans to join forces
with Assyria. He was trying to make the king and the people
aware of what was going on and to warn Judah to leave
Egypt alone. If she allied herself with that deceitful nation,
she would surely be invaded. When a nation was defeated in
Isaiah's day, all her citizens were made prisoners of war,
stripped of all their clothing, and displayed as objects of
shame and ridicule.
When Isaiah walked naked up and down the streets of
Jerusalem, you can imagine the reaction. ''Why is that
preacher going around naked?" 'To show that our nation
Expect Christ Now! — 6
will be stripped naked if we make Egypt a political ally."
Isaiah's attempts to get the message of the Lord across
were unconventional, but he was willing to sing in the street,
give his children symbolic names, and walk about naked to
awaken and alert his people to God's ways. He gave up his
pride and dignity in answer to God's prophetic call.
Isaiah knew what happened when one obeyed the Lord.
Hope and anticipation and expectation were set forth clearly
in his prophecy. If we were to lift up the one thing from this
man's life that makes the deepest impression on us, certainly
it would be his sense of anticipation. He was excited about
what could happen if men obeyed God.
Isaiah wrote those memorable words about the one who
would come and show what God is like. He looked forward
to God's entry in human history. The heart cannot help but
beat faster when we read them:
''The Lord will give a sign; a virgin shall conceive
and bear a son, and shall call his name Em-
'The people who walk in darkness will see a great
light. Unto us a child is born; to us a son is given.
He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
"The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the
spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and
Anticipation was the keynote of Isaiah's life and proph-
ecy. We explain our social problems and our behavioral
conduct by referring to gaps. We have a generation gap, a
knowledge gap, a communication gap. Name the problem
and we have a gap to account for it. There is one gap that is
less understood and more real than all the others, and that's
the anticipation gap. That gap is only too evident when it
comes to our profession of the Christian faith.
Anticipation is highly visible almost everywhere else. In
the political arena, it is one of the strongest elements pres-
ent. Every candidate gives us a new sense of expectancy.
Expect Christ Now! — 6
Every program introduced into any legislative chamber has
an element of hope for someone or some cause. We find it in
sports. A new coach is hired because the athletic council and
the school administration expect him to produce a winning
team and satisfied alumni. Players go into games hoping to
win, even if the odds are against them. Every participant in
the Olympics visualizes a medal in his hand.
Why do we sing a different tune when we come to church?
We pray "Thy kingdom come," but do we really expect it to
come? We pray 'Thy will be done," but do we hope it will
be done through us? We pray 'Torgive us as we forgive,"
but do we anticipate going through the tension of forgive-
ness? Do we think anything might happen if we attend a
worship service? Or has the heart of our Christian faith
become so withered that we go to church out of habit or by
rote, and say almost in defiance to the worship leaders, ''Vm
here. Now see if you can inspire me."
A poet once said, ''I no longer anticipate being visited by
any inspiration." He might be speaking for many of us who
have turned the excitement and the adventure of worship
into dullness and boredom. Some of us go to church with no
enthusiasm, no expectancy, no anticipation, and then we
wonder why we have not been visited from on high. Antici-
pation will bring us a sense of the real presence of God.
Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr was a great theologian. He wrote
volumes of theological insight and wisdom. None of those
writings has reached more people than his simple prayer:
''God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change, the courage to change the things I can change, and
the wisdom to know the difference." That prayer has be-
come the theme of Alcoholics Anonymous. Persons
addicted to that drug turn from despair to hope, and all who
join that group foresee that the presence of God will help
them overcome their plight.
I recall when I was a child what a dreaded disease
poliomyelitis was. I had friends who suffered from it and are
crippled today because of it. I still remember my parents
back in the 1940's saying, "Someday we will have a way to
control this disease." They anticipated the Salk vaccine.
There are scientists today who spend year after year in
Expect Christ Now! — 6
laboratories lined with rabbits, mice, monkeys, test tubes,
and phials of blood samples. These men and women have
failed a thousand times, but they continue their ex-
periments. They hope with confidence and and boldness
that some day they will discover the secret that can unlock
the mystery of cancer. They firmly anticipate a vaccine or
cure for this disease that scares us all.
There are sixteen prophetic books in the Old Testament
written by such men as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea. I
have wondered, since starting this series of sermons on the
sanctuary windows, why the prophet Isaiah was the one
selected to stand at the back near the entrance. Is it just for
chronological purposes? Or could it be to remind us to come
no further into this place unless we come with a sense of
expectancy? Could he be saying to us, as we enter, 'Tf you
don't anticipate something wonderful happening while you
are here, then you have dealt a death blow to your faith."
My fifth grade teacher used to say that she wished she
could bore a hole in our heads and pour in a can of brains.
That's how desperately she wanted us to learn. Isaiah did
some unconventional things to get his people to be alert to
what was happening and what was going to happen. I would
be tempted to use that can of brains and do some of the
things Isaiah did if I thought it would inspire us to live in
anticipation and expectancy of the living presence of Christ.
I don't mean for us to be in a nervous state of constant
anxiety, but to live faithfully, obediently, and receptively
every moment of every day. Then we can move from ordi-
nary sameness and dullness and boredom to an extraordi-
nary anticipation of the presence of living Christ. And we
will find that is already ours, now.
He Kept Having To
Start All Over Again
The fresh, unfaded blues and reds in the sanctuary win-
dows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church are
breathtaking. Even more striking is the symboHsm the win-
dows convey. Each has a unique story to tell, and each of the
central figures in twelve of them had a special relationship to
God. The amazing thing about those relationships is that
they are so similar to ours. If we know the Biblical stories we
are aware that the persons pictured here had the same strug-
gles and the same ideas that we ourselves have. Each person
depicted in those windows has a word of guidance to offer us
as we make our way through life, trying to be the man or
woman we feel God wants us to be. One of the reassuring
things we discover when we know these twelve is that they
were not saints; they were people just like us. It is rather
awesome to realize that the picture of any of us could very
well be in one of those windows along with Abraham or
David, Andrew or Paul.
On the left of the sanctuary, as you enter, are six Old
Testament characters. The chronological order of their ap-
pearance in the Bible moves from Enoch to Isaiah (front to
back). On the right are New Testament figures, four disci-
ples of Jesus and two leaders of the early church. Here the
order runs from back to front, beginning with the best-
known of Jesus' disciples, Simon Peter.
The names of the twelve disciples are listed in the Gospels
of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles.
It is not by accident that Peter's name heads each list. It's
first because he was considered a leader by the other eleven
disciples, as well as by those who were part of the church in
those early years, probably including some New Testament
Peter was a natural-born leader. In any group, he auto-
He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7
matically emerged as the dominant person. Just as a cork
comes to the top of water, so Peter came to the top in any
assemblage. Some people have this personality trait. Some
do not. Peter was born with it. He was an extrovert long
before that word was coined. No wall flower, no shrinking
violet was Peter!
In any gathering, Peter was the first to speak, the first to
act. He had what we call ''foot-in-mouth" disease. He left it
up to his friends to look before they leaped, but he insisted
on leaping and then looking. All four Gospels and the Book
of Acts give us this picture of Peter — impulsive, often
Jesus knew all these things about his disciples. He was
aware of Peter's self-assurance, his eagerness to express
himself. He also knew of Peter's remarkable leadership
ability; no one was more familiar with his hotheaded ex-
citability. There is no one word to describe a man with such a
varied personality — impulsive, steady, impetuous, loyal,
treacherous, trustworthy. Peter was all of these.
Let's pick out three characteristics of this first disciple
that may very well paint a portrait of any one of us. Peter was
valiant. Peter was vacillating. Peter was victorious.
To say a person is valiant is to say that he is brave,
courageous, stout-hearted. That was Peter!
When Peter saw Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and
heard him say to him and his brother Andrew, 'Tollow me
and I will make you fishers of men," he dropped his net and
straightway followed him. I don't think this was a quick
decision, for I believe Peter had heard about the Nazarene
leader and had probably heard what the Baptizer said con-
cerning this Messiah. When the invitation came, Peter de-
cided right then to follow. He didn't toy with the idea for a
month or two and finally consent with reluctance. He did not
plead for time to think it over, weigh all the hazards in-
volved, or meditate on the personal sacrifices this would
involve. Peter was a man of action who responded readily,
"If you can use me, let's go."
We all applaud the person who is capable of a clear-cut,
straight-from-the-shoulder decision without a lot of if s,
and's, and but's. We like a leader who can spell out the
He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7
project and put it all down clearly. We admire the person
who, once a decision is made, stands by it!
One night the disciples were in a boat out on the Galilean
Sea. A storm came up and the little boat was being tossed
about. Jesus appeared, walking on the water. They thought
they were seeing a ghost and cried out in fear. Jesus calmed
them as well as the stormy sea. Peter said, ''Lord, if that is
you, let me come over on the water." When Jesus told him
to come, he plunged in. That's what we expect from a
valiant, courageous person like Peter. The less courageous
cling to what they think they can be sure of, but the valiant
are willing to walk on choppy waters if Jesus says the word.
When Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of
Gethsemane, one of the soldiers grabbed him. Determined
to protect his master, Peter whipped out his sword, ready for
a fight. Jesus told him that wasn't the way to do things, but
we have to admire this disciple who was not going to stand
idly by and see his master physically abused. Peter's only
thought was for Jesus' safety.
We could find many other examples of Peter's boldness.
He had the courage and the conviction to take any action
that would support the cause to which he had given his
allegiance. He was valiant in his commitment to Christ.
That is, however, not the whole story. Peter was also
impetuous and impulsive. He had a tendency to fly off the
handle, to act first and think later. He was valiant, but also
vacillating. To vacillate means to fluctuate, to waver in mind
or opinion. When Peter found himself going too far or too
fast in one direcfion, he would backtrack, retreat, and go in
the opposite direcfion. To correct any tendency to lean too
far one way, he would lean too far the other way.
This character trait is most evident at the Last Supper.
Jesus had listened to two of his disciples request seats of
honor. To demonstrate that service, not honor, is the
hallmark of life in the kingdom, Jesus began to wash the feet
of those twelve followers. This was something only servants
did. When Jesus approached Peter with the basin and the
towel, Peter said, ''Lord, you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus may have explained that the spirit of humility is basic,
and all followers must be willing to serve. "Peter, if you will
He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7
not let me wash your feet, I have failed to make you under-
stand." So Peter blurted out, 'Then don't just wash my feet
but my hands and head as well." He went from one extreme
to the other. At first he wouldn't participate at all, and then
he required a whole bath.
Can't we see ourselves here? We go from one extreme to
the other in our loyalty and our commitment. We run hot or
cold and can't even be depended on to remain either way for
The classic example of Peter's vacillating was his denial,
his three-time declaration that he didn't even know Jesus. In
the upper room when the Master told his followers that they
would all desert him the next day, Peter spoke right up.
''Not I, Lord," he said. "Maybe these others, but not I. I'll
never run away from you even if it means I have to die."
Within a few hours, he stood in the yard outside the court-
room and denied any association with Jesus. He vacillated
from proud boasting to desertion.
Is there any one of us who cannot identify with this
characteristic? We make commitments in a worship service
that we carelessly deny when the pressure is on from family,
social group, or business. We may subscribe to an ethical
standard that we find easy to compromise if it threatens our
Peter is not a saint in a stained glass window. He is one of
us, vacillating, fluctuating, wavering.
We don't want to forget that Peter was also victorious.
What a victory for him on Easter morning when the angel
said to the women, "He is risen. He is not here. Go your
way. Tell his disciples and Peter." That message must have
given the despairing disciple new life. Two days before he
had denied knowing Jesus, but here is the master calling him
by name, forgiving his denial, and believing in him again.
Any one of us can rise out of shame and hopelessness if we
know God is with us, has forgiven us, needs and depends on
Another sign of Peter's victory occurred a few days after
the resurrection. The disciples who were fishermen went
back to work. After fishing all night and catching nothing, at
daybreak they heard someone on the shore say, "Fish on the
He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7
other side of the boat." When they did, they had more fish
than they could haul in. John whispered to Peter, "That's
the Lord." Peter, as we would expect, jumped into the cold
water and waded ashore to greet him. When they had eaten
breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, ''Do you love me?" "Yes, I
love you. Lord," was his answer. "Then feed my sheep,
Peter." And Peter did. He rolled up his sleeves and went to
work. The Book of Acts tells of his untiring efforts, and his
sermon in Jerusalem on the power of Jesus was indicative of
how that power changed his own life.
There is a legend that tells how Peter came to Rome years
later when the Christians were being severely persecuted.
He saw men and women being burned to death. He saw them
being eaten by wild animals. His first impulse was to run
away. As he started out of the city, Peter met a man carrying
a cross. He asked him, ''Quo vadis?'' The man answered,
"I'm going to Rome to be crucified with my Lord." Peter
turned in his tracks and headed back into the city. That was
the last time he vacillated in his faith, the last time he had to
start all over again. The legend says he was crucified. But
before they put him on the cross, Peter insisted on being
nailed upside down. He felt unworthy to imitate his master
in that final hour.
Valiant and vacillating, Peter was at last crowned with
victory. His story could well be ours because we, too, have
to keep starting all over again, but God can take our ordinary
lukewarm commitment and make us extraordinarily valiant
and victorious like Peter.
Practice What You Preach
''Would you come to the general meeting of the United
Methodist Women and install our new officers?"
''At the June meeting of our Methodist Men the new
officers are taking over, and I'd like for you to install them. "
"Could you be with the Cokesbury Class on January the
fifth and install the new officers?"
These are some of the requests that often come to me from
organizations and classes within the church.
In each case, I've found that there are at least four officers
who are to be charged with their responsibility: president,
vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. At most installa-
tions I say something about the administrative ability of
these persons and the decisions they will have to make,
because a larger group would have difficulty doing so. It is
usually true that the president of a group or class depends on
the executive officers to help interpret plans and programs,
so an executive committee is essential.
There are three men who might be identified as the execu-
tive committee of the disciples of Jesus. At the beginning of
his ministry, Jesus chose twelve men to form that apostolic
group. Three of the twelve seemed to be members of an
inner circle. I gather, from reading the Gospels, that those
three were more closely associated with Jesus than the other
nine, and perhaps were the ones to interpret his plans and
programs to the rest. Their names always appear first in any
list, and in the sanctuary of Edenton Street United Meth-
odist Church we find them standing side by side in three
stained glass windows. They are Peter, James, and John.
Practice What You Preach — 8
As we study one of these, James, we find that there are
some things we know about him. He was a son of Zebedee
and a brother of John. He earned his Hving as a fisherman
and was in the fishing business with his father and brother.
His name usually comes third or fourth on the list of disci-
He is called James the Greater to distinguish him from
another disciple by the same name, designated as the Les-
I call him a member of the executive committee, along
with Peter and John, because it seems that Jesus selected the
three of them to be with him on special occasions. Whenever
he was making a decision or facing a crisis, Jesus had these
three with him. In one town an official asked Jesus to go to
his home immediately because his daughter was desperately
sick. Before they arrived, someone came with the news that
the little girl was unconscious. They thought she was dead.
Jesus told the other disciples to stay where they were and
took only the executive committee to the official's home.
There James saw Jesus respond not only to the needs of a
child, but also to a family shaken with fear and grief. At a
crucial point in his ministry the master took his committee of
three up on a hillside. There I think Jesus tried to explain his
real mission to them. They were so overwhelmed at those
innermost secrets that they wanted to stay on the hillside
and build tabernacles. Such a mission was sure to be safe in
that isolated spot, but might become contaminated if the
world became involved in it. James was made aware that one
doesn't stay isolated in the ethereal, but walks into every
area of life, showing what living close to God means. Then
there was the time when the members of that executive
committee felt they could question their leader about a
timetable. They were interested, as were all the Jewish
people, in when the Kingdom of God was to arrive. Would it
be next week, or next year, or sometime in the far future?
What signs were they to look for? Wars? Earthquakes?
Changes in the sky? Jesus offered no schedule, but only the
advice to be ready at all times: "If you are always ready,
then you won't worry about dates and calendars; you'll be
too busy at what needs to be done." (Mark 13:33-37) James
Practice What You Preach — 8
must have been very impressed with that advice. When
Jesus left the upper room after the Last Supper and went to
the Garden of Gethsemane, he instructed the disciples to sit
around the campfire, but asked those three to come with him
a bit further into the garden. He told Peter, James, and John
that his heart was broken. He wanted them close by because
he felt that his mission was a failure, for everything he had
dreamed for the world was failing. I surmise that James must
have sensed those feelings. Perhaps he remembered those
occasions when he had completely misunderstood what
Jesus was trying to do.
Do you remember the time when Jesus told his disciples
he must go to Jerusalem? To go from Galilee in the north to
Jerusalem in the south, one had to pass through the foreign
territory of Samaria. No love was lost between the Samari-
tans and the Jews. Jesus sent the executive committee ahead
to make the necessary preparations for food and lodging. By
this time, his popularity was widespread, and one of the
villages in Samaria refused them accommodations because
the radical rabbi might upset things. When James and his
brother were given the news, they wanted to blast that little
town off the face of the earth. ''Let's call down fire from
heaven and burn it up," was the advice they offered Jesus.
''Everyone has a choice," Jesus told those two rebellious
men. "You are to live so that your life will make the choice
easier for others. You don't annihilate people because they
don't choose my way of life." As they walked along, Jesus
explained to James that people will always make excuses for
not following. We can imagine his Master saying, "The
important thing is, James, once you have put your mind to it,
then make sure your life shows it."
Right before Palm Sunday, James and his brother made an
unusual request. "Master, we want you to do something
special for us," they said in unison.
"What is it you want me to do?" Jesus asked.
"Give us permission to sit at your side in the glory of your
kingdom," they asked boldly.
Too often, when we are included in the decision-making
process, we have exalted opinions of ourselves. After years
of being one of the selected three, James must have built up a
Practice What You Preach — 8
lot of self-assurance. Even when Jesus asked him if he could
undergo all that he himself had to endure, James felt confi-
dent that he could. When Jesus said something about
servanthood, James realized that the place he had asked for
would not exalt him, but would require that he be a servant.
Following the resurrection, James became one of the
leaders of the early church. He died before any of the other
twelve, save Judas. King Herod had him put to death be-
cause he dared to pattern his life after Jesus'.
That is all we know about James the Greater. From this
glimpse of his discipleship, there is one thing that stands out.
Through all of his intimate contact with the Lord, James
seems to be aware that the quality of one's life is far more
important than creeds or dogma. He saw Jesus put love first,
a love that was lived out, not merely talked about. In view of
this, it is enlightening to read the New Testament book that
bears James' name. The five brief chapters read like a ser-
mon. One of the Bible commentaries says that an excellent
way to make use of the book is to read it from the pulpit.
We do not know who wrote the Book of James. There are
many possibilities, since the author identifies himself simply
as ''James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."
One of the possibilities, since it so clearly resembles a ser-
mon, is that it is an example of James' preaching.
Someone could have taken it down as he preached, trans-
lated it into Greek, added a little here and there, and then
issued it to the church so that all its members might possess
it and benefit from it. That becomes more than a possibility
when we think of the content of the book in light of how
James viewed the ministry of Jesus. Having been part of the
executive committee and having seen how service ranked so
high with the Master, James knew the key to a happy life is
service. I think James, perhaps more than Peter and the
others, and surely more than Paul, was able to make clear
how explicit Jesus was when he said we are to be judged
solely on the basis of how we treat others. Jesus never said a
word about dogma or creed when he talked about a last
judgment; his only criterion was how we have acted toward
and treated others.
In James, we find three ideas lifted up. The first is a need
Practice What You Preach — 8
to be genuine. We must not just pretend to be followers. If
our loyalty is divided, the instability of our life will show it. If
we really have the faith, we don't have to talk about it
constantly; it will be seen in the way we live.
The book stresses our credentials as disciples, such as
obedience, impartiality, integrity, discipline, humility, and
patience. James said that one sure sign of a person's religion
is how he controls his speech, his words, his tongue. A
word, he knew, is like a bullet, leaving an indelible impact on
the human tissue.
James also felt that a disciple should never neglect the
resource of prayer. Whatever the problem — suffering,
sickness, sin, frustration — the ''prayer of faith" puts the
disciple in touch with the ultimate source of help.
To be genuine, to use our Christian credentials wisely,
and to take advantage of the goodly resource of prayer could
well have been James' sermon outline. His preaching was
authentic, for having been a part of that inner circle of
disciples, James knew the way of Jesus: Practice what you
preach! We will discover that if we do, it will change our
ordinary ''me first" philosophy into day-to-day, sometimes
tedious service, but the end result will be an extraordinarily
The Transformation of an
Have you ever thought of how much erasing we would
have to do if we were to take out of all historical records
everyone whose first name is or was John? The New Testa-
ment is filled with significant persons by that name: John the
Baptist, John the Apostle, John Mark, John the Elder of
Ephesus. In history books we find John Wycliffe, John
Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, John Bunyan, John Mil-
ton, John Adams, John Kennedy. I looked through a list of
Methodist ministers in the eastern part of North Carolina
and found forty-two men named John. John Maides, John
Smith, John Hobbs, John White, John Crum, John Bergland
are a few of those . And if we were to erase all Johns from our
membership rolls, we would take off one hundred and six
people: John Barfield, John Brooks, John Crawford, John
Duncan, John Gilbert, John Glover, John Harris, John
Koonce, John Kirby, John Lane, John Means, John
Morisey, John Moore, John Sutherland, John Wiley, and
others . There would be a big hole left in the record of human
history, and in the membership of our Methodist Conference
and Church, if we were to delete all the Johns.
In almost every group of people we usually find someone
whose name is John. So we are not surprised, when we look
over a list of those twelve people selected by Jesus to be his
disciples, to find a John there. There is an image of the
Apostle John in one of the sanctuary windows of Edenton
Street United Methodist Church. The artist evidently knew
something about John, for he has placed a pen in the right
hand and a book in the left. According to church tradition,
this apostle wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as
three Epistles and the Revelation to John.
More is written about John in the Bible than about any
other apostle, except Peter. Peter, John, and Judas seem to
The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9
come first to the minds of those asked to see how many
apostles they can name — Judas as the betrayer and the
other two because they're the best known.
I have had one particular aim in mind as I have developed
these sermons on the Biblical characters in the windows. I
have tried to show them as real people, as real folks like us.
This has been easy to do because that is exactly the way they
are presented in the Bible. They are not saints, in the sense
in which you and I define saints. They displayed every
weakness known to the human race: greed, distrust, selfish-
ness, arrogance, lust, foolishness, revenge, and pride. But
because each responded to God in Christ, and allowed him
to turn his weaknesses to strength, God was able to use them
in fulfilling his purpose. That same thing can happen to us.
We can respond to God in trust, and their faith can become
ours. Look at how one man, John, responded.
We notice first that John had his weaknesses (something
he had in common with the other eleven). Whenever we run
across some fault or weakness in the character of a hero or
heroine, we remark that we knew they must have feet of
clay. So did John. If to make an error is human, there is no
doubt that John was very human.
For example, have you ever thought of John as having the
earmarks of a bigot? He was prejudiced about his own way
of doing things. He thought that only that little band of
disciples could be the instruments of God. John came to
Jesus once and announced: ''We found a man driving out
demons in your name. I told him to stop doing that because
he doesn't belong to our group." He was so attached to his
particular group that he couldn't see the good anyone else
That's a very modern fault, for we are all prone to be
prejudiced. Labor unions are often so dedicated to their own
creeds that anything coming from management is immedi-
ately branded as false. That also works in reverse. The
current J. P. ^Stevens controversy between union and man-
agement is evidence of such thought patterns. We have
political cliques that assume they are the sole defenders of
the finest traditions of the American way of life or the only
ones who advance the nation's cause. Anyone who is not a
The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9
part of their particular group is called either a liberal or
conservative, depending on which group the defender be-
longs to. Unfortunately, in an age in which there is more
cooperation and understanding within areas of the Christian
faith, there are still religious groups that thrive on creating
shadows of mistrust, and would have us think the institu-
tional church is corrupt. Individually we all have a host of
prefixed ideas about certain people, places, things and even
foods. (I have never been able to convince my wife that
chitterlings are a delicacy.)
John had a quick temper, too. At times he became so
provoked that he became openly angry. The natives of a
little town in Samaria wouldn't let the disciples make reser-
vations for overnight lodging. That made John so mad: Who
did those Samaritans think they were? Why, they were
nothing but a mongrel race of degenerate Israelites, thought
John. He wanted to call down fire from heaven right on the
spot and burn that little town and all its heathens off the face
of the earth. Jesus told John that revenge has no place in the
Christian life. We should never despise people even though
we loathe what they do or say. Two wrongs can never make
a right. Love the sinner, Jesus advised, and hate the sin.
John also let his ambition get out of hand. He asked Jesus
to let him have one of the chief seats in his kingdom. John
was simply saying that if any honors for doing the work of
Jesus were to be passed out, he wanted to get his just
reward. According to the standards of the world there was
nothing wrong with that request. However, Jesus had to
remind John that the chief seats are not for those who seek
them, but for those who served without thought or hope of
reward. Those who seek rewards serve themselves, not
God. I don't think John fully comprehended all of this until
long after the resurrection.
I think John's prejudice, temper, and misguided ambition
show how human he was.
Now let's move to a positive aspect of this disciple. John
was a worker. He didn't mind rolling up his sleeves and
doing whatever was needed.
Being a part of the executive committee, that inner circle
of disciples along with Peter and James, John went every-
The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9
where with Jesus. He went to the home of a town official to
look after a sick child. He went with Jesus up the mountain
and was part of the transfiguration experience. He was with
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and although unable to
stay awake, he did stay close by. He was one of his master's
constant companions. After the resurrection, when the dis-
ciples began to live again, John was second in command.
The first nine chapters of Acts are an account of the labors of
Peter and John. He also wrote a biographical sketch of the
spiritual nature of Jesus (The Gospel According to John), a
religious tract and two letters (I, II, and III John), and in-
spired a book to encourage Christians to keep the faith in the
face of trial and persecution (The Revelation to John).
We used to think that teaching a class or serving a meal or
being an elected officer were our only avenues of doing the
work of the church. I am glad that concept has changed. We
actually are the church in action when we integrate God's
Word into our workshops, for it is most effective when it is
carried on in the home, at the office, at school, where we
It has been pointed out that the greatest danger to the
church is neither communism nor socialism but sleepwalk-
ing. Too often, those of us who claim the way of Christ seem
to be walking around in a dream, not knowing where we are
going or why, and caring little whether or not we arrive. John
and those people of the early church knew that the risen
Christ had the ability to redeem and change life, and so they
urgently went about the work of letting everyone know what
could happen to them, who they could become.
I cannot remember where I read this or the theologian who
wrote it, but it says well what we're meant to be. ''When
God wanted sponges and oysters, he made them and put one
on a rock and the other in the mud. When he made people, he
did not make them sponges or oysters. He made them with
feet, hands, hearts, vital blood, and places to use them, and
said, 'Go, work!' "
We've seen the weaknesses of this disciple, which helps
us identify with him. We've seen his willingness to work,
which also helps. Now let's consider the thing that perhaps
most of us remember best about him, his tenderness.
The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9
We wonder how this man, whose prejudice and anger
would make him want to destroy a whole town, could be-
come the calm, devoted, understanding disciple whom Jesus
loved. It's interesting to know that John went back to
Samaria, possibly to that same town, preached about the
compassionate Christ and laid his hands on those people so
that they might be aware that God's spirit was there. John
had learned much through his association with Jesus. His
prejudice, selfishness, and bigotry were transformed into
devotion, affection, and tenderness.
This tender quality of his personality can be seen in two
events. At the Last Supper, Jesus was expressing sorrow
that one of his disciples would betray him. As the others
were asking, "Who is it?" John, sitting next to Jesus, leaned
over and embraced him. In that moment of great anxiety, he
seemed to sense that Jesus needed the comfort of physical
touch. Jesus must have received courage from that display
of affection. Then at the crucifixion, one of the last words
Jesus spoke was addressed to John, asking that he look after
his mother. Joseph, her husband, had been dead a long time
and Jesus, as the oldest son, had probably been head of the
family. Mary had leaned on him for support, and in her old
age, she needed support more than ever. Jesus knew his
mother would miss the touch of his hand, his voice, his
prayers. So he committed her to John, that tender disciple.
Tenderness is a great asset. Fortunately, it has now come
to be considered a manly asset. We no longer think of it as a
weakness, but as a strengthening force in life, possible only
for those who are really strong.
When we look at the image of John in stained glass, we can
take courage because he shows us it is possible to move from
ordinary weakness to extraordinary strength. John wrote in
his gospel about his great discovery that Jesus is the Bread of
Life, the Light of the World, the Door, the Vine, the Way,
the Truth, the Resurrection — the Life. Because John, a
human being just like us, discovered it, so can we!
He Needs Us Ordinary Folks
In the recent past, there have been two very compelling
personalities in the political life of the south: Martin Luther
King, Jr. and George W. Wallace. We would never have
expected these two men to agree on anything, for they were
in direct opposition to each other. And yet, in reading about
them, I have found that there was one thing on which they
did agree. In two brief excerpts from their speeches, this
common philosophy is clear.
To a group of his followers. Dr. King made this statement:
"You are good. I came over here to tell you that you are
somebody. You may not know the difference between 'you
does' and 'you don't,' but you are as good as any white
person in this country." In a speech to a white middle-class
audience. Governor Wallace said almost the same thing:
'They look down on us, and call us rednecks. But I'll tell
you, when they write against us and say those things, it's just
one person writing. And you're one person, too, just as good
as he is."
These men, whom we would never expect to agree, are
discovered saying the same thing. They both stated that
people who feel pushed aside, forgotten, despised, or
neglected really do count and are really important after all.
In early church history there was a day set aside to re-
member men and women whose names were unknown. All
Saints' Day is still observed in some churches, falling on the
first day of November. We remember outstanding and im-
portant personalities like Peter, Paul, John, Augustine, St.
Francis, and Thomas Aquinas, but there are a multitude of
anonymous people who have contributed to the Christian
faith. In order to recall the contributions of those persons,
whose names are known only to God, the church established
All Saints' Day.
He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10
Each of us is known and loved by God as a distinct and
individual person who has a part to play in God's plan and
purpose. However, when we measure our part by that of
someone else, we become discouraged. We may feel, for
example, when we look at the people shown in the windows
of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, that we could
never match their contributions. Why, who of us could ever
be as dedicated as Enoch, or as enthusiastic as Isaiah, or as
faithful as Abraham, or as brave as David? Peter, James, and
John were real decision makers, leaders, writers — and we
feel we could never measure up to them. St. Paul, with his
rare theological genius, not only had understanding but also
commitment far beyond ours.
Let's be honest and admit that we are unequal in many
ways. Human differences and inequalities are a fact. We are
not equally attractive or good-looking or intelligent or sensi-
tive or virtuous. The Biblical characters surrounding the
sanctuary were not all on the same level, nor were they all as
virtuous as we may suppose. There is one disciple whose
image might be there to show us this inequality, and to
remind us that each is known and loved by God as a distinct
and individual person no matter what his or her talents.
Andrew may be the one person in the whole group with
whom we can readily and easily identify.
What do we know about Andrew? I would make a guess
that few of us realize that he was the first disciple to be called
into that intimate fellowship. Andrew and a friend of his
were young fishermen in Bethsaida. They heard about John
the Baptist preaching on the shores of the Jordan River, near
Bethany. Eager to hear and see what John was saying and
doing, the two young men made the eighty-mile trip to
Bethany. There they met Jesus and spent some time with
him. We have no record of their conversation, but because
of it Andrew had the profound conviction that Jesus was the
Messiah. He went home and told his brother, Peter, and his
friends, James and John, about finding the Christ. When
Jesus came to the area around the Sea of Galilee, those three
were ready to follow him because Andrew had already in-
troduced them to Jesus.
We would think, from that account, that Andrew would
He Needs Ordinary Folks — W
have been on the executive committee of the disciples, but
he was not. When Jesus went to the home of Jairus and
ministered to his daughter, he took Peter, James, and John,
but not Andrew. Peter, James, and John were invited to go
with Jesus up the mountain and were given a vision of his
glory, but Andrew stayed in the valley with the other disci-
ples. At the time of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,
Andrew was not with Peter, James, and John.
There may have been a number of reasons that Andrew
was not an officer. He didn't have the leadership qualities
his brother had, nor was he a spiritual genius like John or a
writer like James. However, we do violence to a man's
personality when we ask him to become the kind of person
he's not equipped to become. We must allow each person to
be what he or she is. There is no indication that Andrew
resented not being elected; he simply kept doing well what
he knew how to do. It is evident from the three times he is
mentioned in the Gospels that Andrew knew how to intro-
duce people to Christ. None of these introductions were
spectacular in the sense of being an evangelistic crusade or a
program aimed at increasing church membership, but each
profoundly affected the lives of those he persuaded.
The first has already been mentioned. Andrew went to
Bethany, heard the Baptist preach, talked with Jesus, and
then went home to tell his brothers and his friends about the
The second incident was the feeding of the five thousand.
We all remember this, but do we recall what part Andrew
played in it? That multitude had spent the entire day at a
picnic area by the Sea of Galilee. They had come to hear
Jesus teach and had been listening for hours to his words. In
the late afternoon, they were obviously tired and hungry.
The nearest town was a mile and a half away. Jesus knew the
people had physical as well as spiritual needs, and if they
started home without nourishment, they would faint. He
could not dismiss them under those conditions, so he asked
Philip if there was enough food around to feed them. ''It
would take over $200.00 worth of bread to feed this crowd,"
Philip responded. Amid the awkward pause that followed,
He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10
Andrew said, 'There is a boy here who has five loaves of
bread and two fish."
How do you suppose Andrew knew about that boy and his
''sardine sandwiches"? Perhaps seeing that the lad was
alone, Andrew gave him a friendly smile, shook hands with
him, and explained to him the words of Jesus. After they
became acquainted, the boy may have taken his lunch out of
his hip pocket and offered to share it with his new-found
friend. I've heard we can trust any person who is followed
by children and stray dogs.
Andrew was doing his usual thing that afternoon, estab-
lishing a trust relationship with a young boy, and not con-
cerned about directing traffic or making executive decisions
or being pointed out as one of the twelve. He was a distinct
person who had a part to play in God' s plan, and evidently he
played it well for he was ready with the necessary resources
that afternoon on a hillside.
Andrew's unique ability to introduce people to Christ was
recognized by the other disciples, for the third such incident
was in Jerusalem a day or so after Palm Sunday. Among the
folks gathering in the Holy City for the Passover Festival
were some Greeks. Greeks were known for their interest in
any new truth. Their seeking minds sent them from teacher
to teacher, from religion to religion, from philosophy to
philosophy. They may have seen the acclaim Jesus was
given when he entered the city and how he had driven the
merchants out of the temple. Wishing to know more about
him they went to Philip, whose Greek name led them to
believe that he would listen sympathetically. When they
asked for an interview with Jesus, Philip didn't know what to
do, so he asked Andrew. Andrew had no doubts; he knew
from experience that the Master was ready to see any seeker
and never considered any person a nuisance. He went
straight to Jesus with their request.
This insight into Andrew's life may help us realize that
every one of us is distinct and has a unique part to play. We
may not be a leading character like Joseph and David, or like
Peter and John. They were "the greats," and most of us are
not "the greats," but we are still vital to God's plan.
He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10
If we were to write the history of any church, we would
surely include certain names. The founders, the leaders, and
the preachers would all loom large. If we were to write a
history of the early Christian disciples, Peter, James, and
John would definitely appear in the first paragraph. But in
the historical record of any church as in disciple history,
there would be the Andrews, the members who were never
in the spotlight, or involved in policy making, or on the
executive council. Those persons, like Andrew, are the
good teachers, the dependable workers, the loyal worship-
pers, the faithful stewards. The Bible calls them the rem-
nant. Jesus calls them the salt of the earth.
There have been a lot of Andrews in the churches I have
served over the last twenty-five years. Their names, even
now, flash through my mind. Most of us can name many of
these disciples. Let me tell the story of one I've read about.
Wenonah was a member of a United Methodist Church in
Indianapolis, Indiana. We wouldn't find any great and out-
standing accomplishments listed by her name if we looked
through the historical record of that church. I read about her
in a book her minister wrote. The theme of the book was
striving to carry out a ministry wherever we are. He in-
cluded a few paragraphs about Wenonah, ''the most beau-
tiful Christian saint I have ever known."
After an automobile accident in which her father was
killed, Wenonah felt responsible for the physical and finan-
cial welfare of her mother. They confinued to live in their
home, despite the fact that the white, middle-class area was
succumbing to urbanization and also beginning to be
predominantly black. One Sunday afternoon, after she had
returned home from church, Wenonah saw three little black
children playing on the street in front of her home. She
invited them in, read them Bible stories, and served them
lemonade and cookies. That was the first session of an
outpost Sunday School, which met every week thereafter.
One of the youngsters in the class was Stephenia, a six-
year-old who was dying of leukemia. Wenonah went to see
her often. When Stephenia was hospitalized in the last
stages of her illness, Wenonah asked the minister of her
church to stop by her room when he made his visits to the
He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10
hospital . When he arrived at the hospital , he found Wenonah
there, along with Stephenia's parents. They talked quietly a
few minutes because the little girl was so weak. As he was
leaving, the minister asked if they could pray together.
Stephenia answered "yes," reached out for Wenonah's
hand and asked her to pray. Wenonah was her minister (her
Andrew), for she had introduced Stephenia to Jesus.
Later Wenonah had surgery for a malignant tumor. For a
time it looked as though it was successful, but the tumor
reoccurred. She had to quit her job, was confined to bed, and
died within a few short weeks. Just before the funeral, the
minister was given a letter from some of Wenonah' s black
neighbors. It read:
''We, the neighbors of Winthrop Avenue, wish to
express our deep and heartfelt sympathy. We
would like for you to know that we, too, have lost a
friend. But our loss is sure heaven's gain. We are
proud to have known her, her Christian work, and
her saintly way of living. We saw her daily and not
once did we see her without that smile that only a
child of God could wear. She was the founder of
our children's Sunday School. It was never too hot
or too cold to see her going about the neighborhood
winning children's hearts to Jesus. We could go on
and on telling of the good things she stood for."
Wenonah was a distinct individual, doing what she could
best do. She was an Andrew.
I am glad that Andrew's image is included in the windows
of Edenton Street Church. It tells us that Christ needs us
ordinary folks and has faith in our abilities to work quietly
and effectively for him, at whatever we do best. That's what
makes the church extraordinary!
Why Settle for Less?
Some months ago the trustees of Wake Forest University
and the officers of the North CaroHna Baptist Convention
were involved in a disagreement. They had to decide
whether or not to accept a grant from the federal government
for the construction of a science building. The trustees had
given their consent. The convention, holding to the doctrine
of separation of church and state, wanted to return the
money. Because of that dissension a whole new decision had
to be made on who holds control of the University, the
trustees or the Convention.
The Episcopal Church is experiencing internal strife
about the ordination of women and the revision of the Book
of Common Prayer. The latter, containing the rituals for
sacrament, ceremonies, and other services, was accepted
by the church in 1 789. It was revised fifty years ago and now
has been altered again. Considering the controversy sur-
rounding the latest change, I feel sure the earlier revision
also caused some rifts.
The Board of Church and Society, the Board of Global
Ministries, and some other general agencies of our United
Methodist Church have declared that none of their meetings
shall be held in any state that has not ratified the Equal
Rights Amendment. This is a source of our current denomi-
We find the Presbyterian Church, because of its theologi-
cal stance, severed by differences between the conservative
and the liberal. Whether Mass should be celebrated in Latin
or English arouses some communicants in Roman Catholi-
cism. Every church body has recently faced or is still facing
the controversial issue of ordination of those persons pro-
fessing to be homosexual.
There has been, and I imagine there always will be, dis-
Why Settle for Less?— 11
agreement, controversy, strife, or whatever name we give it,
within the church. This is true of every institution. It runs
from the home to the office to the college to the country club
to the lodge to the government. Whenever we come to-
gether, involved in a common pursuit, there will always be
varying opinions, different thoughts about the way things
should be done. There will always be some internal strife in
It was out of such controversy that a man named Stephen
came to light in the Biblical account. During his earthly life,
Jesus had been limited by time and geography. He promised
his followers that they would have his spirit to help carry on
his work through the church. As the church grew, it began to
have problems of different opinions and varied thoughts on
how to conduct its mission.
One such problem developed early. The Jewish people
were very benevolent towards and always concerned about
the poor and the needy. Every sabbath day in the synagogue
they would receive alms for the poor. In addition to that
collection, two officials of the synagogue would go to the
marketplace and to private homes on Friday mornings to
collect funds and goods for the needy. They, in turn, would
distribute all of this.
The early Christian Church was made up of converted
Jews, and they continued the custom of collecting for the
poor. Not all of these Jewish Christians were alike. Some,
born and reared in Palestine, spoke the Hebrew language
and were proud that their race had been kept pure. They
called themselves the native Jews, the Hebrew-speaking or
Palestinian Jews. There were also Jews from foreign coun-
tries, who had discovered Christ the Messiah at the Feast of
Pentecost and had stayed in Palestine. Most of them never
knew or had forgotten Hebrew. Because they were not
natives and spoke Greek, they were designated as foreign,
Greek-speaking Jews. The native Jews tended to feel
superior, and some foreign Jews thought their widows were
being short-changed in the distribution of the pastor's aid
fund. They felt discriminated against.
Instead of letting the matter become worse, with growing
tension and the threat of a split within the church, the disci-
Why Settle for Less?— 11
pies called everybody together. They laid the matter before
the whole congregation, facing it openly and honestly. To-
gether they sought the guidance of God. Out of that congre-
gational meeting a unanimous decision was made. The
twelve disciples should not be burdened with administrative
responsibility. They should be free to concentrate on prayer
and preaching. Some people within the congregation who
had managerial ability, and who could be trusted to be fair,
would look after the aid fund.
That congregational decision ushered Stephen onto the
Biblical scene, along with six other men. In the list of those
men, Stephen is described as ''a man unusually full of faith
and the Holy Spirit." His story is told in two chapters in the
Book of Acts. It wasn't too long after he assumed adminis-
trative responsibility in the church that Stephen's work
began to be noticed. He had spirit, as well as ability, and the
combination made him an asset.
There was a group in Jerusalem that organized a
synagogue for all Greek-speaking Jews. It was known as the
Synagogue of the Freedmen. Evidently the young church
found it necessary to debate its faith with these Greek-
speaking people. Stephen was appointed to represent the
Christians. The spokesman for the Freedmen couldn't
''hold a candle" to Stephen's wisdom and spirit. So, in order
to discredit him, the opposition put up some witnesses who
said they had heard Stephen make blasphemous statements
against Moses and against God. This stirred up such a con-
troversy that Stephen was arrested and brought to trial
before the Jewish Council. The Freedmen introduced their
false testimony: ''This man is forever saying things against
the Temple and against the Law. For we have heard him say
that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the
customs handed down to us by Moses." When the High
Priest asked Stephen if this were true, Stephen preached a
sermon, recorded in chapter seven of the Acts of the Apos-
tles, on how God had unfolded his purpose through the
patriarchs, and through Moses and through Israel's deliver-
ance from Egypt, and by the prophets. He did not hesitate to
point out how rebellious that nation had been at times,
making idols and trying to confine God to their territory.
Why Settle for Less?— 11
Then Stephen, Hke the Old Testament prophet Amos,
brought his message home to his hearers: ''You are just as
stubborn, just as heathen at heart and deaf to the truth as our
forefathers," he preached. ''You always fight against the
Holy Spirit. Your fathers persecuted the prophets who told
of the Messiah's coming, and now you have betrayed and
The listeners became so angry that they stopped up their
ears and refused to listen. Then, in their rage, they rushed on
Stephen, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to
death. He made a cry similar to a cry Jesus had made at his
execution: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
Stephen, through all these centuries, has been designated as
the first Christian martyr, the first person who died for what
he believed and said about Jesus Christ.
We have been able to identify with the persons we see in
the stained glass windows of Edenton Street United
Methodist Church. From Enoch, whose life encourages us
to be aware of God's presence each day, all the way to
Andrew, whose simple lifestyle can be our own, we have
made the amazing discovery that our own images could be in
those windows. These Old and New Testament persons are
no different from us. Stephen, however, may be a different
story. How do we cast ourselves into the role of martyr?
None of us has been persecuted or threatened with death
because of what we believe, and certainly not because of any
verbal witness to our faith. We may have been slighted or
snubbed, even by other church members, but not to the
point of being excommunicated, and surely not stoned with
anything other than words or attitudes.
Maybe we should remember Stephen for his character
more than for his martyrdom. His character was evident in
the confidence the early church placed in him by selecting
him for an administrative position and as its chief debater on
theological issues. His attitude toward those who caused his
premature death, praying that such a gross injustice not be
held against them, says a lot about Stephen's love. Luke
declares that his life was also filled with God's spirit, with
wisdom, faith, grace, power. Those were the attributes that
made him respected, admired, trusted.
Why Settle for Less?— 11
Our lives are filled with something, some of it good and
some of it not so good. But whatever is inside of us finds a
way of expression. Jesus warned us about the ''inside of a
cup,'' the inside of a life. What is on the inside makes or
destroys us. Keith Miller writes of a woman whose life was
colored by the self-pity that ruled her. A television show
recently portrayed how a man's wife lived with him for years
before she discovered that what she had thought was his
ambition was really greed. What's hidden within us is al-
ways eventually revealed.
The Biblical writers spot a lot of us when they point out
some of our inner attitudes that destroy us. Some of us are
''full of bitterness." (Job 21:25) We have grown sour on
people, situations, institutions, life in general. We exhale
bitterness with almost every breath. If nothing is positive
with us, we give voice only to the negative.
Paul speaks of people whose "mouths are full of curses".
(Romans 3:14) Our inward cursing is bound to come out,
whether we realize it or not. He gives us a list in Romans of
things that can fill life and thus distort it: "greed, hate, envy,
fighting, jealousy, lying, gossip". (1:29) Scripture talks
about lives that are full of confusion, violence, selfishness,
trickery. Whatever is inside of us finds expression in our
style of living.
So maybe it's best for us to remember Stephen for the
virtues with which he filled his life, and not for his martyr-
dom. He was a lay person, so full of faith and the Holy Spirit
that his life was gracious and God-like. He may be saying to
us, "Why do you continue to resist? Why settle for less than
Abraham and Joseph and Moses did? Why do you resist
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity,
gentleness, and self-control — the things that can make life
If we choose to make the Holy Spirit our guide, God can
use our ordinary words and actions as an extraordinary
witness for him.
With Paul, We'll Keep
''He is waiting for the same kind of dramatic conversion
that Paul had before he'll join the church." Those were the
words she spoke on my first visit to her home. As the new
minister of that little church, I was going from door to door,
calling on each Methodist family in order to get to know all
275 members. My information card read that she was the
only church member in that family and although I hadn't
asked, she was explaining to me why her husband had never
become a member.
When my new acquaintance mentioned Paul's dramatic
conversion, I must admit that the only Paul I could think of
was a man who sang bass in the church choir. Paul not only
sang, he was also the church lay leader, a member of the
pastor-parish committee, and a very generous contributor. I
began to wonder what kind of conversion experience Paul
Blalock had had and was determined to inquire once I got to
know him better. Fortunately, before I did confront him
with my questions, the truth began to seep into that young
mind of mine: the lady had been talking about the Apostle
Paul in the Bible, and not Paul Blalock of Fremont! Faintly I
began to recall reading something about his conversion in
the Act of the Apostles where it's recorded three times.
To even attempt to write a sermon that covers the scope of
Paul's life and his relationship to the faith is a mental and
physical impossibility. It reminds me of a very prominent
speaker who was called and requested to make an address.
The caller asked how much time the speaker would need to
prepare his speech. 'That depends on how long you want it
to be," he replied. 'Tf you want me to speak for fifteen
minutes, give me four weeks to prepare. If you want a
half-hour speech, I can be ready within a week. If you want
me to talk an hour, I can come now." I feel that way about
the Apostle Paul. It would take months of preparation just to
With Paul, Well Keep On Trying— 12
digest not only the Biblical material, but also all the volumes
that have been written about him.
If we want to read the first biographical sketch of Paul, we
must begin with chapter nine of the New Testament Book of
Acts and read the remaining twenty chapters of that book. If
we want to know how Paul felt about Christ and how he
thought we should live, we would turn to some of his per-
sonal correspondence. Paul was a prolific letter-writer, and
his letters to different churches and individuals are a valu-
able part of the New Testament. He wrote to churches at
Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thes-
salonica, and to his friends Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
Paul was the most influential person in the history of the
early Christian movement. The first glimpse we have of him
is at a mob scene just outside the walls of the city of
Jerusalem. Included in that crowd were the high priest,
members of the Jewish Supreme Court, temple officials, and
a collection of rabble rousers who are always around when
tempers flare up or there is some controversial excitement.
Their leaders had taken off their coats so their arms might be
free to throw stones at some poor fellow in the middle of that
uncontrollable mob. The man about to be killed was
Stephen, one of the known leaders of the Christian group.
Paul was the bystander who held the assassins' coats and
watched from the sidelines. This very devout Jew felt it was
his religious duty to get rid of those spreading the belief that
Jesus of Nazareth was the crucified Messiah who arose from
the dead. He did not participate in the murder but lent his
After the execution that morning, Paul was given orders to
go north to the little town of Damascus. He was commanded
to do there what he had just seen done to Stephen in
Jerusalem. If enough of those religious fanatics could be
killed, then the rest would voluntarily give up their wild
belief out of fear for their lives, the Jewish authorities ar-
gued. On his way to Damascus, something happened to
Paul. He attempts, on numerous occasions, to describe it:
''All of a sudden there was a great light surrounding me. It
was so bright I had to close my eyes. Although the people
with me heard nothing, I distinctly heard the voice of Jesus
With Paul, We'll Keep On Trying— 12
Christ, asking why I was so determined to get rid of the
That experience on the Damascus Road changed the
whole direction of Paul's life. He became the protector,
instead of the persecutor, of the followers of this new reli-
gious sect. Having hated even to hear the name Jesus, he
became a preacher and a servant of Christ. Paul underwent a
complete reversal, moving from villain to hero, from mur-
derer to missionary.
After that sudden change, he needed some time to get
himself adjusted, as well as to let others get used to this new
man he'd become. His first attempts at preaching there in
Damascus didn't carry much weight because of his former
credentials. A brief trip from there to Jerusalem was marred
by skepticism on the part of the disciples and an attempt on
his life by enraged Jews. Paul then went to Arabia and into
seclusion for three years, trying to take in that revelation of
Christ. After that he went to his hometown of Tarsus, and
nothing is heard from or about him for seven or eight years.
It must have been during those years that the home folk saw
in Paul's daily life the changes that had taken place. There
was also some talk around the area about him. ''You
wouldn't know Paul as the same person," people must have
been saying. ''Why, he speaks differently and he certainly
Ten years had passed since Stephen's death and Paul's
conversion. The Christian Church was growing rapidly
under the leadership of the disciples and others who had
joined their ranks. Barnabas, a preacher in a nearby village,
was so busy that he needed an associate minister, so he went
to Tarsus and recruited Paul to come and help him. That was
the beginning of the incredibly active and adventurous
career of the first Christian missionary.
The Church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on their
first journey to spread the Good News. For three years they
traveled over 1,200 miles throughout Asia teaching and
preaching. Paul's second trip took him to the continent of
Europe. In those three subsequent years, Paul was suc-
cessful in starting new churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Thes-
salonica, and Corinth. These were the churches to whom he
With Paul, We II Keep On Trying— 12
wrote most of his letters. His third great missionary journey
was a follow-up visit to the churches he had established.
There was still opposition to the Christian movement, and
Paul was one of the prime targets. In spite of advice to stay
away from Jerusalem, a hot bed of antagonism, Paul went to
the Holy City. He was jailed there and spent two years
facing trial after trial before the governors. Since he was a
Roman citizen by birth and no just verdict could be reached
in the Jerusalem courts, Paul was shipped off to Rome to
stand trial before Caesar. He used his two years of impris-
onment there as an opportunity to write letters to his
churches and his friends.
That's where the Acts record of his life ends. What re-
mains of his story is not Biblical. It is legendary, but it has
some appeal . The tradition is that Paul was released from the
Roman prison and fulfilled his ambition to go on a mission-
ary trip to Spain. When he returned to Rome, Nero was
Caesar and blaming the Christians for everything that went
wrong. One of Nero's mistresses was won to Christ by
Paul's preaching, which so infuriated the emperor that he
had Paul arrested, taken to a public execution place, and
Dwight L. Moody, an evangelist of the early 1900's, once
made this statement: ''One of these days you are going to
hear that I am dead. Don't believe a word of it! For I will be
more alive then than I have ever been in my life." It was the
same with the Apostle Paul. His death did not destroy him; it
only released him into everlasting influence.
Paul's correspondence was meaningful and helpful to his
churches and friends in the first century; his ability to put
into words some of the deep feelings you and I often have is
also of great value to us today. Romans 8 affirms that
''nothing can separate us from the love of God." I Corin-
thians 13 tells us that genuine love "is slow to lose patience,
is not possessive, is not touchy, has trust and hope." In
another Corinthian letter, Paul declared "that even when we
are knocked down, we are not knocked out." "I have fought
a good fight," he wrote towards the end of his life to a young
disciple, "I have finished my course."
Out of all of his writings, let me suggest one thing that will
With Paul Well Keep On Trying— 12
help us identify with Paul. He wrote it in his letter to the
Philippian Church. It was one of his last bits of correspon-
dence, written while he was a prisoner in Rome. After all
that this man had accomplished, he wrote, ''I do not con-
sider that I have arrived spiritually. I do not consider myself
perfect. I don't feel that I have it all in my grasp. So I stretch
my hands out to whatever lies ahead of me, and Til keep on
trying." We can identify with someone who didn't feel that
he had it all under control, who admitted that he didn't know
all there was to know, who was willing to acknowledge that
he was still a learner.
This is especially true in the faith. We are in danger when,
unlike Paul, we think we have all the answers. We'd better
watch out if we ever feel that we have ''arrived" spiritually.
With all of his experience and knowledge, Paul never felt he
''had it all together" but kept his heart and mind open to
future revelation. Here was a man who could formulate and
write out the profound theology we find in his letter to the
Romans, and yet would not claim that he had the last word
on Christianity. I'm proud to identify with him!
Even though Paul's insight and spiritual maturity seem far
beyond our grasp, he had two attributes which I feel we can
have. He had purpose and perseverance. To have a purpose
is to have a goal and to have perseverance is to keep moving
After his Damascus experience, Paul fixed his eyes on
Jesus Christ and he kept them there. He was a one-purpose
man and he knew what that purpose was. There was no
question about his priorities once he committed himself to
Christ. We call Paderewski a genius at the piano and Thomas
Edison an inventive genius. But what we call "genius" is
often nothing more than wholehearted purposefulness. I
think Paderewski's musical talent would have gone un-
noticed if he had not practiced the piano eight hours a day for
fifty years. Thomas Edison, who invented a host of things
that make life easier, had a purpose that kept him in his
laboratory as many as twenty hours a day for weeks on end.
A raindrop has no power, but put that raindrop with million
of others, let it fall over the Niagara, and you have enough
power to light a city. The electricity we feel when we walk on
With Paul, We'll Keep On Trying— 12
carpet on a cold day is powerless, but if it were all concen-
trated together, we would sustain a real shock. We will
never have a good family life, or succeed in establishing
friendships, or know more about the faith, or experience a
deeper relationship with Christ unless that be our purpose.
Paul had a purpose. So must we.
Perseverance is the second attribute we can adopt from
this apostle. When he found his purpose, he stuck with it. ''I
press toward the goal," he wrote. 'Til keep on trying."
Paul's record is quite different from that of Demas, one of
his companions in his early ministry. Demas is mentioned
three times in the New Testament, but his story is tragic.
The first is in Philemon in Paul's mention of ''Demas and
Luke, my fellow workers". He wrote about him next in the
Colossian correspondence: "Luke, the beloved physician,
and Demas". In the third reference, Paul told Timothy that
"Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me".
His deterioration is so painfully obvious. When Paul first
wrote about him, Demas' name is ahead of Luke's as one of
the fellow workers. In the second reference, it seems that
Paul mentioned his name as an afterthought, so he must have
been slipping. Finally, Paul was saddened by Demas' deser-
tion. Church membership rolls are filled with the spiritual
descendants of Demas . Starting out well in the Christian life ,
some of us abandon our first love because of our increased
appetites for other loves.
The Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and a host of other youth
organizations uphold the proposition that a good start is half
the battle. We must, however, remember that it is only half
the battle. The ultimate test is not so much in a good start as a
good finish. Paul didn't start too well, but once he got
underway his staying power was incredible.
We have all started with a purpose, which is the reason we
gather for worship. Our purpose is to make Jesus Christ the
Lord of our lives. We've learned that from Paul. We also
need to learn his perseverance — his ability to stay with it.
Paul's commitment to the very ordinary attributes of pur-
pose and perseverance enabled him to become an ex-
traordinary man of God. Can we say with him that "we'll
keep on trying"?
The Christ Window
He Was One of Us
A very interesting and profound theological experience
took place on a Sunday morning in one of our nursery
classes at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. The
teachers were talking with the two-year-old children about
Jesus. They explained that he was a good man who lived
long ago and taught us a lot about God. They also made the
children aware that Jesus was once a little child who had to
be taught by his mother and father. The class searched for
pictures to see what Jesus looked like as a little boy and as a
grown man and were fascinated with the ones that showed
him with a beard.
Just then, the church school superintendent, who has a
beard, came by the room to pick up the attendance record.
When he appeared in the doorway, one little girl pointed at
him and declared to the others, 'There's Jesus. Right
Perhaps that small child has a better theological under-
standing of Jesus than a host of us adults. She has been
taught at home and in church school that he was a good man.
And that's how her two-year-old mind conceives of him —
as a real person. She does not elevate him into the unreacha-
ble and ethereal. I can imagine what she and those other
nursery children thought that Sunday morning: ''My
daddy's a good man. He must be like Jesus. My mother
looks after me, and Jesus' mother did the same for him when
he was little."
Our ideas about Jesus fall into broad areas. To children,
he is a real person. Young people are torn between Jesus as a
man and a superman. (This is the reason they took so readily
to the rock operas, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "God-
spell".) Most of us adults feel that he is far beyond our grasp;
his mysterious birth, totally-committed life, monstrous
crucifixion, and bewildering resurrection confuse and awe
He Was One of Us— 13
Some twenty years ago, I was a young adult trying to put
my theology and my life together. One evening at church I
heard a preacher say , ' 'Jesus came from the Father and went
back to the Father, and the things that happened between his
birth and death do not really matter". If that statement is
true, his humanity didn't matter. If I believed that, Jesus
would be someone to whom I could never relate and he
would have no understanding of or meaning for my everyday
Surrounding the Christ windows in Edenton Street United
Methodist Church are the figures of twelve Biblical charac-
ters. Each of these was a real person. Each had his own
unique personality. Each had some personal difficulties to
overcome and decisions to make. And each became what he
was by his choice and with God's help. They were real
people. Abraham was over-confident. David had a continual
battle with the flesh. Simon Peter had his ups and downs.
Even saintly John harbored a desire to be first. But they
were all men of God — a mixture of horns and halos. All
twelve of them were just like us: they ate, slept, worked,
played, had hobbies and friends, made decisions, tried to
make their incomes and expenditures balance, related well
to some folks and turned others off. They were human
So was Jesus. We need to remind ourselves over and over
again that Jesus was a human being. Some very serious
difficulties developed in the first century when certain
theologians denied his humanity. That is why the early
creeds of the church were written. For example, when the
Apostles' Creed was adopted in the second century, the idea
was prevalent that Jesus was not really a man, that he was
not really born of Mary, but actually sprang into being as a
full-grown adult. The wilderness temptations, some
claimed, were not real, for no divine being could ever be
tempted. And there were Christians then who believed that
Jesus' suffering on the cross was a kind of divine playacting,
for the Son of God could not be subjected to pain. So when
the Apostles' Creed was written, the words ''born," "suf-
fered," and "crucified" were used to affirm Jesus' human-
ity — to affirm that he was born as other children are, that he
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
Raleigh y North Carolina
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He Was One of Us— 13
suffered under Pilate as many had, and that he was painfully
crucified as were the two thieves.
Here it is essential that we understand that affirming
Jesus' humanity does not mean denying his divinity or his
unique relation to God. But each of us needs to see his
humanness in order to understand how vibrant and alive our
own relationship to God can be.
Jesus was not an oddity, or an exception, or a fine but
unreachable ideal. Rather he was human — one of us. If our
eyes are open as we read the gospels, we cannot miss this
fact. In those four books we read of a real man who worked
hard and fell asleep from exhaustion. He wept, faced frus-
tration and despair, and was angry when he saw corruption.
He became terrified in the garden and cried out in despera-
tion as he died. He was one of us.
There is much in the gospel records to confirm Jesus'
humanity. But two things in particular — his temptations
and his failures — point out how much he was like we are.
Jesus was tempted as is every human being. Matthew
reports that right after his baptism by John in the Jordan
River, Jesus had to decide on the direcfion of his life, so he
went to a secluded area and spent forty days by himself. No
one was with him to tell about this experience, so he must
have told the disciples himself and he told it in pictures that
they could remember.
If we had witnessed the temptations, we would have seen
no tempter, no devil with a long tail and a pitchfork. We
would have seen only a young man, alone with his thoughts.
We know from his account that he was wrestling with all the
shortcuts he could take to achieve his life's purposes — and
being tempted to take them. This involved such a struggle
that he was unable to eat during the forty days.
First he considered setting up a kingdom which would
satisfy the physical and material needs of people. 'Turn the
stones into bread" was an enficing possibility. Doesn't this
same idea invade our religious lives? How many fimes are
we promised that the rewards will be great if we plant the
seed of faith? I have been bombarded with mailings that tell
me of all the good things that can be mine if I will send four
dollars a month to God's Passbook Savings Plan, or make a
He Was One of Us— 13
contribution to a television club, or send twenty-five dollars
to an evangelist in financial trouble. What a tremendous
following Jesus would have had if he had succumbed to that
temptation! How enticing it must have been! How tempting
it is for us to follow promises of bread, of tangible rewards.
Jesus was also tempted to present religion as a magic
cure-all. ''Jump from the temple and show how God will
take care of you" was a way of offering people a substitute
for personal responsibility. How many of us are attracted to
the Christian faith because we think of it as a ''rabbit's
foot", a good luck charm? "If you are a real Christian", we
are sometimes told, "you'll have no trouble, no suffering, no
problems with the children, no difficulties in your mar-
riage." Put a Bible in the house and a plastic Jesus on the
dashboard and all will be safe. Pray with the football team to
insure a victory. That kind of faith is still being offered, and
as Jesus was tempted to offer it, we are tempted to accept it.
Jesus also had to deal with selfish ambition in his tempta-
tion experience. He was offered the whole world: "Til give
you all the kingdoms if you will fall down and worship me."
He struggled with the temptation to use his power for per-
sonal gain and prestige — to put himself in God's place. We
also have to fight selfish ambition and our desire to control
pieces of real estate and kingdoms of men, to make pos-
sessions the main objective of our lives.
Jesus' decisions were made in the wilderness of tempta-
tion — a wilderness with which all of us are painfully famil-
iar. He could have changed the whole course of God's plan
right there if he had adopted any of those ways, for he was
human. But he emerged from that lonely retreat with a
clear-eyed certainty about the way he must follow. We, too,
can stop any plan God has for our lives, or we, too, can be
certain and follow him.
In addition to the temptations, I think his failures also
show the humanity of Jesus. He failed with certain people.
Some of his plans collapsed. He went to the cross feeling
that he had fallen short of his goal. It is not heresy or
blasphemy to say that Jesus was a failure. Such a possibility
He Was One of Us— 13
helps us believe in his humanness and helps us identify with
him. For who of us has not failed?
Jesus failed with his own family. They could not under-
stand him, were upset by his actions, wanted to take him
home. Can any of us say that we have been totally successful
in rearing our children, or relating to mothers-in-law, or
enjoying ideal family life without any misunderstanding and
Jesus failed to convince a young man about the abundant
life. He came to Jesus and laid out all his credentials: he had
no ill-will toward anyone, had not broken the law that pre-
scribed sexual intimacy only within marriage, nor was he
guilty of lying or stealing. That was a good record, but Jesus
saw that this young adult had another god whom he wor-
shipped: his wealth. Can I take a chance with this man? Can
I commend him for what he's done, take him in and hope his
first love will change? Jesus may have wondered to himself.
His honesty forced him to tell that man what he needed: to
put his wealth in its proper perspective. When the young
man walked away, Jesus expressed his feeling of failure to
the disciples. Who of us has not felt the same sense of regret
when those we love are indifferent to the faith and the Christ
We can remember how dejected Jesus felt when only one
of ten healed lepers expressed his appreciation. He knew
how it feels to fail with people.
That hour in the Garden of Gethsemane was a very human
struggle for Jesus. We have a tendency here to leave his
humanness outside the gate — to believe that he knew what
was to happen and that he had no uncertainty or grief be-
cause of his faith. But Jesus felt that he had failed, and he did
not want to die without having convinced men that the
Kingdom of God is the realm of love. He could not help
feeling defeated and torn with grief when his disciples de-
serted him and the world turned against him.
If we could get away from the fact that Jesus Christ was
human, everything would be easy. If he had never struggled
or failed, had been all divine, then we would not have to face
He Was One of Us— 13
the demand to be like him. If he had some inside track to God
that made him automatically committed and successful and
above pain, then we can be ''off the hook." If he was not
human, then we can't be expected to strive to be the com-
mitted servant that he was.
Only as we let Jesus be a person will we ever get to know
him in a way that really matters. For you see, when we let
him be who he was, then it will be possible for us to become
who God intends us to be. Then — and only then — can we
understand that God's extraordinary purposes are accom-
plished by ordinary human beings.
The Christ Window
The Resurrection Life:
For Christ and for Us
We have become a land of spectators. We watch instead
of participating. Few of us play football, but a lot of us watch
the games on television or in a stadium. Millions of us look at
a few of us playing basketball. More people watch golf than
play it. And judging from the amount of pornography prev-
alent in our country, it seems that even sex has become a
Being a participant is quite different from being a spec-
tator. There is a vast difference between making a tackle and
watching it being made. It is more difficult to shoot a basket
than to shout for a basket. The putts that look so easy on
television are far more difficult on the golf course. Being a
participant is com.pletely different from being a spectator. It
is one thing to attend a wedding, but another to be the bride
or the groom. The spectator walks away from the wedding
basically unchanged. The participant, for better or for
worse, will never be the same again. At a sports event, the
spectator generally invests nothing more than the price of
admission and the inconvenience of getting there. The par-
ticipant puts his life, his health, his reputation on the line.
It is like that old joke about the hen and the pig who were
talking about the gratitude they felt for the man on whose
farm they lived. He fed them, provided them a place to stay,
and looked after their general safety. As an expression of
their gratitude, they decided to treat the farmer to a break-
fast of ham and eggs . The hen would provide the eggs and the
pig would provide the ham. Preparations were well under
way until the pig finally realized that if their plans were
carried out, it would require little effort by the hen but total
participation on his part.
Each of us has a choice, when it comes to the Christian
faith, to be either a spectator or a participant. And the
difference between the two is just as significant here as it is
The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14
on the football field, the basketball court, the golf course, or
in a marriage or a barnyard. The marvel of the Christian
faith, difficult as it is for us to grasp, is that God himself was
not just a spectator in our world, but a participant.
A man from China was trying to explain to a group of
people why he became a Christian instead of embracing
either Confucianism or Buddhism, the predominant reli-
gions of his country. He imagined himself in a very deep
well, sinking into the water and mud. He could not get out.
Someone looking down at him from the top of the well said,
''My son, I am Confucius, the father of your country. If you
had obeyed my teaching, you would never have landed in
this well. If you ever do get out, be careful to follow it." He
waved his hand and left. Then Buddha came along, looked
down, and advised the man to fold his arms and think, and
that would give him peace. He called to Buddha for help,
declaring he would follow his instructions whenever he was
rescued. Buddha, too, left him in despair. The third man
wasted no time offering words of comfort from the top of the
well; he went down, pulled the man out of the mud and
water, brought him up, removed his dirty clothes, washed
him, and dressed him in clean garments. Then the helper
invited the man to follow him, promising that he would never
forsake him. The Chinese Christian responded to the Christ
who rescued him.
There is a difference between being a spectator and a
participant. God chose to be a participant in our world, and
he did so by becoming one of us, by coming in Jesus of
Nazareth. We see in him a human being who subjected
himself to all the limitations you and I have to accept. He
overcame the struggles and failures that can tear a human
life apart. He chose and responded just as you and I do. We
can identify with Jesus and strive to become the committed
servant he became. He was able to set his priorities straight,
and so can we. He suffered rejection, misunderstanding, and
failure, but he never let them color his life to the point of
giving up. We, too, can rise above whatever life hands us.
He was courageous enough to stick by his principles and
maintain his integrity, and that same courage is available to
us. We can discover what Jesus discovered: that service is
The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14
the secret of a happy Hfe. This is possible because God did
not just watch his world go by; he took part in it.
Easter is the day we celebrate the victory and the resur-
rection of Jesus, whom we call the incarnate Son of God.
Shall we be spectators or participants in that event? We may
think that we have no choice. What can we do except stand
by and observe the empty tomb? We know of no one else
who has been resurrected from the dead as he was, so what
can Easter mean to us other than an anniversary celebra-
tion? But we are not limited to the spectator role, for we can
be participants in resurrection — and Jesus shows us the
way to victory over whatever entombs us.
Jesus was, first of all, a victor over himself, over his
selfishness and self-centeredness. At the beginning of his
ministry, he could have decided to center the whole mission
of the kingdom of God on himself. He could have been
popular if he had ''stroked" people, continually patted them
on the back, said only comforting things and silently as-
sented to their waywardness. He could have stayed in
Galilee, enjoying the peace and quiet and security of the
carpenter shop. He could have plied his own trade, minded
his own business, and saved his own skin. But he didn't. He
rose above himself. Some of us are imprisoned within our-
selves, entombed by self-concern, shrouded by the ''me"
philosophy. And as long as we remain Easter spectators, we
will never discover what it means to rise above ourselves.
Jesus did not live his life for himself. He lived to serve God
and others. In fact, he was quite explicit when he said that at
the last judgment we will be judged solely on the basis of how
we have treated others. Not a word will be asked about how
many creeds we can recite or what doctrines we subscribe
to, but only if we have lost ourselves in service.
Jesus found a way out of self-centeredness. He was resur-
rected from himself — and so can we be if we are partici-
pants in servanthood.
Jesus was also a victor over ill will, adversity, rejection.
To be resurrected from these is terribly difficult. The man
Jesus was able to rise above those who hated him. That's
one reason God sent him to earth — to show how much
forgiveness is possible.
The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14
It is so normal to retaliate, to strike back, to seek revenge
that Jesus dealt with it in the Sermon on the Mount: "Don't
be angry with your brother. Don't return evil for evil. Love
your enemies. Pray for those who mistreat you." When he
and Simon Peter discussed forgiveness, Jesus said it must be
unconditional, limitless. I marvel at his prayer when he was
being nailed to the cross: ''Father, forgive them; they don't
know what they are doing." There is no trace of vengeance
or animosity in him. Long before he died, Jesus was resur-
rected from revenge and hatred. Thus he sets before us the
highest ethical standard ever known. His disciples, then and
now, have never fully accepted nor lived by this standard.
But we have caught enough of its spirit to know that there is
something tragically wrong in hating and seeking revenge.
One day I listened to a young woman verbalize her hatred
for some of the people of her church, for certain persons
with whom she worked, and even the hatred she had felt for
me. I have never been able to get that scene out of my mind
and heart, for that young woman is destroying her life,
entombing it, encasing it, shrouding it in hatred. She could
be resurrected from all that with the help of the one who
said, "Love . . ."
Jesus rose above the rejection and ill will and adversity
that was directed toward him. We can, too, if we are partici-
pants in the Easter event and not merely spectators.
Jesus was also victor over the fear of death. Even though
we celebrate immortality at Easter, death remains inevita-
ble. "There is a time to be born and a time to die," the writer
of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes declares. Easter
doesn't change the fact that each of us dies. But Easter
declares that the fear of death, the sense of despair that
accompanies it, and the feeling that it brings life to a full stop
are erased by Jesus' resurrection.
In his life and teachings, Jesus always approached the
problem of death with a sympathetic spirit and a penetrating
mind. He taught us to think of it as a door that opens into a
fuller awareness of life. When we are overcome by our fears
— and who isn't at one time or another — we can recall his
words of assurance to his troubled disciples: "Don't let your
hearts be fearful. There are many rooms in my Father's
The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14
house, and I am going to prepare a place for you."
Jesus did not want to die, as we can see in the Gethsemane
experience. There he was filled with grief and anguish, and
he asked the Father if it would be possible for men to change
their minds. He was afraid, not of death, but of what hatred
can do to people. A participant in the Christian faith does not
fear death because he trusts in God.
A bride decides on her wedding dress long before her
wedding day. It is hard to imagine any bride, on the night
before she's to be married, saying, ''I wonder what I should
wear tomorrow." For months she has been looking forward
to the day she will stand beside the young man who is to be
her husband. She prepares for that day because she is to be a
participant. A spectator can decide the night before what to
wear to the wedding, but not the bride.
St. Paul said the time will come when we will meet Christ
face to face. If we really believe that, we will get ready by
rising now above our selfishness and our refusal to forgive
those who hurt us. And if we are ready, we will not fear the
meeting, or the death that precedes it.
What is it that encases us today? Is it self-centeredness?
What is it that entombs us? Is it hatred?
What is it that shrouds life for us? Is it the fear of nothing-
ness, extinction, death?
Jesus was resurrected from whatever entombs us. As one
of us, he rose above selfishness and revenge. So can we. If
we are participants in his resurrection, then we can begin to
live victoriously, joyously.
At Easter we need to be participants and rise out of
ourselves, our hatred, our fears. We can, with the help of the
risen Christ. The resurrection life — the extraordinary life of
service and love and trust — can begin right here for us, at
this very moment.
The Rose Window
Take a Closer Look
High school juniors in the State of North Carolina took
their competency tests in November, 1978. Two months
later the governor gave a statewide television audience the
results. Ninety percent of the students passed the reading
section, which meant that at least 73,000 eleventh graders
were able to read with some degree of comprehension. The
conclusions were not as bad as some people had predicted,
but Governor Hunt said he did not feel they were good
enough. He was concerned with that ten percent who did not
pass the reading portion of the test. He later asked the
General Assembly to underwrite remedial programs for
those students who had failed.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like not to be
able to read? I think most of us wonder what it would be like
not to be able to see, especially when we meet a blind
person. We may even wonder how it would feel to be deaf.
William Barclay, an English theologian, declared that his
deafness was a real asset because he was able to eliminate a
lot of noise by unplugging his hearing aid. I'm sure, how-
ever, that at other times he felt lonely and cut off.
I am not sure about the literacy of Edenton Street United
Methodist Church's congregation, but we have a member
who is blind and a number of members who have lost their
sense of hearing. One totally deaf person who cannot even
hear with an aid is always at the worship service on Sunday.
She cannot hear the music or the sermon. She sits in a world
of silence. ''I come because I like to be with people," she
says, ''and because of the surroundings of the sanctuary.
There is a lot I can see that speaks to me."
We are surrounded in this building each Sunday by a host
of things that speak to us, not audibly but through our sight.
As we walk in the door, someone shakes our hand. As we sit
down, we see things that represent something to us: the flag
Take a Closer Look — 15
of the United States is a symbol of this country, and the
cross on the altar is a symbol of our resurrection faith. When
we create a symbol, we take an idea and a visible form of that
idea, and we put the two together. The visible form is not an
exact replica of the idea but is a way of calling the idea to
mind. Clasping each other's hands is not friendship, but it
conveys a feeling of friendship. The flag is not the United
States, but the stars and stripes help us think of this country.
The cross is not the resurrection faith, but it reminds us of
Most of the lay people in the early church could not read.
When they gathered for worship, they could not read the
scriptures, or follow words in a hymn book, or be guided by
an order of worship printed in a bulletin. They listened
intently and remembered what they heard. Since they could
not read, they began to develop some symbols, some visible
signs that would help them recall what they had heard and
learned when they entered the church building. This is how
church symbolism was started. God was pictured as a hand
reaching down and the Holy Spirit as a dove descending
from above. The lamb became a symbol for Jesus. For the
church there was a ship and for the Trinity a triangle. When
those early Christians came to church, even though they
could not read, they found in symbols some elements of the
Symbols are still used today in church windows and
church furnishings to remind us of some of the cardinal
elements of our faith. This is a form of teaching, a way of
presenting something visual to help recall a biblical or
theological truth. The symbols that surround a worshiper in
the Edenton Street United Methodist Church sanctuary are
a valuable supplement to the preaching and religious educa-
The very first symbols that attract our attention, the ones
we mention most often, are the stained glass windows. If we
could not read but had heard stories about the biblical fig-
ures seen in the windows, looking at their images would help
us recall the Bible records. The Enoch window would bring
to our minds a man who walked very close to his maker
throughout his lifetime. Isaiah used some unusual methods
Take a Closer Look — 15
to get God's message across to the people of his day. Seeing
his image might remind us of our need to be alert to the
message as it comes to us today. Saint Paul, whom I have
always considered a spiritual giant, never stopped striving to
deepen his faith. The Old and New Testament figures who
occupy the larger space in the twelve windows not only have
a story of their own, but a message so up-to-date that it
commands our attention.
The lower sections of the fourteen windows tell the story
of Jesus, beginning with his birth and ending with the ascen-
sion. We often have a treasure hunt in confirmation class.
Class members are given a list of words or names and are
instructed to find them in the Bible. One evening I watched
them search for the name Jesus. Some began with the first
page of the Bible. Others kept flipping from section to sec-
tion, even using the index. Some of them turned immedi-
ately to one of the four books that tell his life story. After
their months of study, all the members of the class could tell
us to turn to the gospels when we wish to know about the life
and ministry of Jesus. Since those young people are able to
read, they could pick out the four books from a list of
twenty-seven books in the New Testament.
In the early church where the members could not read, it
would have been meaningless to give them an index listing of
books. One early church leader, Irenaeus, decided that pic-
tures would help the people remember Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, the four gospel writers. Irenaeus thought of
the different aspects of Jesus: his humanity, his leadership,
his sacrifice, his divinity. Then he thought of the symbolism
used by Ezekiel in his Old Testament prophecy and picked
up by John in Revelation. Both writers had visions of the
grandeurs of heaven. When they attempted to describe their
vision of the throne upon which God sat, they wrote that it
was surrounded by four living creatures: a man, a lion, an
ox, an eagle. Irenaeus held that those four living creatures
represented the four aspects of the work of Jesus. The man
symbolized his humanness. The lion was representative of
his leadership, the strength and fortitude of his ministry.
Cattle were used as animals of sacrifice, so the ox was a sign
of the sacrificial nature of his life and death. Since the eagle
Take a Closer Look — 15
flies the highest of all birds, it was used to indicate the height
of his spiritual nature, his divinity. So Irenaeus and some of
the other church leaders, in order to give symbols to non-
reading readers, pictures each of the four gospel writers as
one of the four living creatures.
There is a window in the Edenton Street United Methodist
Church sanctuary that shows those four creatures. It is the
first window we notice when we enter, for it occupies a
prominent space above the altar. We call it a rose window.
The deep shades of blue and red, as well as its circular shape,
make it an object of beauty — but take a closer look: it is
more than beautiful. If we examine the window closely, we
see in the center an open book imprinted with two Greek
letters. Surrounding it are four small pictures representing
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you cannot see them
clearly in the window, perhaps you can find the identical
carvings on each side of the reredos, the wooden panel
behind the altar.
Although all four gospels are biographies, they are not
exactly alike. Each stresses a different aspect of the ministry
of Christ. The church leaders kept this in mind when select-
ing the creatures to represent the gospel.
Matthew' s gospel begins by tracing the genealogy of Jesus
through forty-two generations. He wrote primarily to Jewish
Christians, attempting to show that the man of Nazareth was
the Messiah whom they had anticipated. Over and over he
referred to the prophecies that told of his coming. Because
Matthew stresses the humanity of Christ, the symbol of his
book is a man. The winged man called the early Christians'
attention to Matthew's gospel and its emphasis on the hu-
manity of Jesus.
When we read through the sixteen chapters of the Gospel
According to Mark, we are struck by quickly-changing
scenes, and by the way the story jumps rapidly from one
episode to another. It is amazing the number of times Mark
writes, "And Jesus immediately ..." — did this, did that,
went here, went there. Everywhere he went and everything
he did indicate that he was a remarkable leader, as well as a
man of action. A lion holds a place of honor in the animal
kingdom because of its speed and strength. So it became the
Take a Closer Look — 15
symbol for Mark, and the winged-lion was a reminder of that
gospel of action.
In the Old Testament times animal sacrifices were an
outward expression thought to be necessary to obtain God's
forgiveness. St. Luke was a doctor by profession who loved
and served people, and Jesus' sacrificial and loving service
impressed him deeply. The ox, that humble beast of burden,
became the token of Luke and the story he wrote.
John is different from the other three writers. He gave no
account of the birth, the baptism, or the temptations of
Jesus. There are no parables and no healing words for people
thought to be demon-possessed. There is nothing about the
elements of the Last Supper or about Gethsemane. In his
philosophical manner, John wrote about Jesus as the Bread
of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the
Resurrection. Because of his stress on the divinity of the
master, John is thought of as the eagle. The eagle flies higher
than all other birds, and the fourth Gospel reaches the high-
est thoughts about Christ.
The rose window has these four symbols of the gospel
writers, each stressing one of the four aspects of Jesus' life
and ministry. The humanity, the leadership, the sacrifice,
and the divinity are symbolized by the man, the lion, the ox,
and the eagle.
The open book in the center of these symbols is the Bible.
The two Greek letters on it are alpha and omega. These are
the first and last letters of that alphabet. They stand for Jesus
Christ, ''the first and the last", "the beginning and the end",
''the same yesterday, today and forever." (Revelation
22:13, Hebrews 13:8)
The window that rises above the altar is more than a thing
of beauty. If we take a closer look, we find in it a visual
reminder of Jesus Christ and of those who wrote his story for
us, and we will discover that it is more than ordinary stained
glass; it is an extraordinary symbol of how God showed
himself to us.
The Nativity Panel
That Wasn't a Convincing
Way to Begin
The church needs to advertise if it is to attract people. The
reason the PTL Club on television meets with such great
success and receives millions of dollars each week is that it
advertises. It uses TV to promote its programs and Jim
Bakker to make passionate pleas for funds. Oral Roberts has
achieved personal popularity and is now able to attract
multitudes to a meeting or a broadcast because of his name.
In fact, Mr. Roberts never lets us forget his name; he men-
tions it often in his preaching. Because of giant crusades,
Billy Graham has become the final authority for a lot of
people. He proclaimed (November 1978) that ''Jim Jones,
leader of the People's Temple cult who led over nine hun-
dred of his followers to mass suicide, was possessed by the
devil." According to Mr. Graham's theology, our life is
either directed by an angel or the devil, and basically, we are
not responsible. All of us would agree that his is a safe
theology, even if we feel it is unsound. Such thinking, em-
braced by many, is advertised and published.
Scattered across this country are a host of local churches.
Some are little, some are large. Some have only a few
members while others have memberships in the thousands.
The budgets vary from a few dollars to a million dollars. We
have heard of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in New
York City. It is a landmark. Listed on a sightseer's guide to
the capital is the National Cathedral. The November
suicides made the People' s Temple of San Francisco known,
and the Carter family made famous the Plains Baptist
Church in Georgia. Most of the churches, however, are
simply statistical figures, except to their own ministers and
Centuries ago some statistical data was being gathered by
a Roman emperor who ordered a census. No one went from
That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16
door to door making a count of the people who lived in each
household. There was no clock in the capital that recorded
the number of births and deaths that occurred each minute.
In fact, the burden of taking the census did not rest primarily
on the shoulders of the government that ordered it, but on
Just as we have to go to the precinct in which we are
registered to vote, the people of that first century had to go
to a certain place in order to give their census information.
When we vote, we go to the precinct nearest our home, and
when we move from one area to another, or from one city to
another, we transfer our voter registration. That saves us
from going back to the first place we registered to vote when
we were eighteen or twenty-one. The people of this particu-
lar first century census, however, were ordered to return to
the place where their ancestry began.
The names that made the news then were those who were
''big" in government and religion. Caesar Augustus,
Quirinius, Herod, Annas were household words. The news
centered around the big cities like Jerusalem, Rome,
It was during that particular time that God, the creator of
the universe, decided to show himself in a way that could be
understood. (At least God hoped we would be able to under-
stand.) This manifestation had been anticipated for cen-
turies, promised time and time again to the Israelites, who
felt chosen by God to receive it. They had read it in their
prophetic literature, had heard about it in their synagogues,
had talked about it among themselves, and had even
dreamed of such a revelation. They waited longingly for it.
They waited because they were tired of having to give part of
their income to support a government that oppressed them,
and of having to kowtow to every Roman soldier who
roamed the streets of their towns making unreasonable de-
mands. They plodded along because they knew that some-
day soon a messiah was coming who would wipe out Rome,
destroy her oppressive government, and set them free.
At last, during that Roman census, the Messiah was born.
The Messiah came, but not as they had expected. He didn't
come as Mr. Clean to wipe out all the Roman dirt. He didn't
That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16
come on a white horse, Hke a white tornado, making every-
thing bright and shiny with a wave of his hand. He didn't
come as Superman, changing clothes and personaHty in a
telephone booth and unsticking every sticky situation. He
didn't come as the great evangelist, drawing bigger and
bigger crowds, collecting more and more money, being seen
and heard over radio and television, and promising peace
and prosperity for a particular kind of faith. The Deliverer
didn't come at all as the waiting Israelites expected. He
didn't come the way they predicted, and didn't begin to save
the world from its bondage the way they would have done it.
The crux of this whole matter is that we still prescribe
certain ways for him to come to us. We still have precon-
ceived ways in which we think God should make himself
There is a window in the sanctuary of Edenton Street
United Methodist Church that has a very ordinary scene in
the bottom panel. It shows a father, a mother, and a baby.
The baby has obviously been born very recently. Although
the people are dressed differently from the way we dress, the
scene is a familiar one.
Many babies have been born within the past week at Rex
Hospital and Wake Medical Center. I walked by the nur-
series of both hospitals and saw fathers, mothers, and
babies. The only difference was that the babies were on the
other side of a glass wall, and there were no sheep around. I
didn't think much about it, for we expect to see parents
looking at their newborns in a hospital nursery.
In the first century husbands and wives were going to their
ancestral towns all over the Roman empire. Surely more
than one of those was expecting a baby. The birth of a
normal six-pound boy was no great thing because there were
lots of boy babies born that same night. But that's the way it
all began, in an ordinary way. That's the way it still begins.
A sermon such as this is not meant to be flippant, but if we
could have a conversation with God, there might be some
questions we would like to ask about this beginning.
Why did you do it this way, God? Why did you reveal
yourself in a helpless baby? We see very little strength or
power in a tiny baby. The potential is there, of course, but a
That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16
more spectacular way would have attracted immediate at-
tention. If a king had suddenly appeared on the throne in
Rome, or a prince arisen with prestige, wealth, authority,
and power, people would have taken notice. Or better yet,
God, if the skies had opened one day and you had walked
down a flight of stairs, that would have been the Cecil B.
DeMille way and folks would have come to ramrod atten-
tion. That is what some folks are still promising. One day
things are going to break loose, they say, and the sky is going
to open up. Is it possible that you might come in an ordinary
way again, as in a church service, or through our prayer
lives, or in the small voice in our hearts?
Another question we might ask is, why did you pick
Bethlehem, God? That little town was so obscure that most
people had never heard of it. It was just a tiny provincial
place where they rolled up the sidewalks at eight o'clock
every night. It was like Lemon Springs or Chinquapin or Tin
City. The only folks who know where they are are the people
who live or were born there. Why couldn't it have been in
Jerusalem? Or wouldn't it have been better if you had
selected Rome or Athens? Or, if you had just waited,
couldn't it have been in New York or Chicago or Houston?
Why did you choose that ancient day, God? Oh, there
were good roads then; in fact, the Romans are still remem-
bered for their excellent highway construction. There was a
measure of peace, even though it had to be maintained by
occupation troops. It is true that people were expecting you
to come. But look at all the advantages you could have in this
century, if you had waited. The television cameras could
flash the picture and message of a messiah around the world
in a matter of seconds. The viewing audience would put a
supergame on public broadcast. We can imagine how the
Sermon on the Mount would sound in stereo if you had only
waited, God. With our incomparable communication sys-
tem, even the remotest places of the world could hear the
good news. We are educated, highly-trained, computerized,
skilled and sophisticated people. Think of what we could do
with Jesus today, if you had only waited, God, or would now
send him on a cloud.
Why on earth did you choose a stable? There must have
That Wasnt a Convincing Way to Begin — 16
been flies and smelly animals. Since this baby was your son,
why not a palatial home for him like the White House or the
Biltmore House in Asheville? That would have impressed
us. Or better yet, why not Johns Hopkins Hospital or the
Duke Medical Center? Mary could have been given the best
care, watched over by skilled doctors and nurses, and all our
modern techniques would have been available if anything
went wrong with the birth. Everyone would have known
that this baby was unusual. As it is, we have enhanced that
stable, pretending it was clean, had radiant heat in the floor
and hot and cold running water, and animals that did not
This fifth question we preface with an explanation. You
know, God, that we are not prejudiced and have open minds
on the race issue, but why an ethnic minority? Why a Jew?
We've made the Jewish race the brunt of our cute jokes,
although we have shifted more recently to the Polish. At
least Mary and Joseph might have been wealthy and cul-
tured, or better still, couldn't Joseph have been a high priest
like John the Baptist's father? We are not anti-semitic, but
you must admit that Jesus' chances would have been con-
siderably better if he had been the son of a respectable,
upper class family of influence and means. At least he could
have been Caucasian.
Any questions for us, God? We know that at his nativity
there were a lot of people who missed you, God: Caesar,
Herod, the innkeeper, most of the citizens. They missed
your coming because it didn't happen as they expected. It
was too ordinary.
Oh, but some people didn't miss him. Somehow,
shepherds on the hillside knew he had come and they tried to
describe the ordinary in an extraordinary way to convince
those they told. There were wise men, seekers, who found in
the ordinary the one they sought. They said it was like
following a star, even though they walked on level ground.
Mary and Joseph expected nothing new in their baby ' s birth,
but by the time the story was written down, everything
about Jesus had become wondrously extraordinary.
It is rather remarkable that above the nativity panel in this
window stands the Old Testament character, Enoch. The
That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16
only thing the Bible says about him is that he walked with
God. The writer doesn't say exactly what this meant, but we
can surmise that he had a keen sense of God's presence as he
went about his work, participated in his community, lived in
his home, worshiped in his church, dealt with his fellowman.
A man walking with God, sensing his presence — nothing
stupendous, colossal, or extraordinary about that, is there?
Underneath Enoch, we see in stained glass a baby's birth,
an ordinary, everyday happening. And yet that is the way
God came and continues to come to us, in ordinary ways, in
our work, in our homes, in our community, in our worship,
in our relationships. Will we recognize him in his ex-
traordinary Son, Jesus Christ?
The Purification and Presentation
What Do an Ancient Home
and a Modern Church
Have in Common?
Abuse is a topic which easily evokes our feelings. To
abuse something is to use it wrongly, improperly. The other
morning I laid some guilt on one of my sons who had abused
two of my neckties. I found them on the floor of his closet,
hidden under some of his own abused clothing. He had
misused property, used it wrongly and improperly, and I
reacted strongly. All of us react even more fiercely when we
hear of human abuse . To abuse a human being is to do wrong
to that person, to injure or berate or physically mistreat him.
A husband can be tried in a court session for wife abuse. A
wife can be accused of emotionally berating her husband.
Parents can be checked on if they are suspected of child
This past week in Chicago a city worker went berserk
from sheer exhaustion. For days he had been cleaning away
snow with no letup from a grinding routine. Crashing his
snowplow into over thirty automobiles, he abused the per-
sonal property of the owners. The newspapers have recently
reported a suit that is being brought against the actor, Lee
Marvin. For over two years, I feel, he abused his common-
law wife, although she subjected herself to him. Now she is
retaliating. One aspect the media has not mentioned is that
they both have abused the sacred covenant of marriage.
In Ann Landers' column one writer expressed her horror
when she read about a woman who delivered her baby in a
gas station rest room, threw the seven-pound girl into a trash
can, and drove away with her boyfriend. Last November I
recall seeing the picture of a twenty-five-year-old New Jer-
sey mother who allowed two dogs to mangle her newborn
infant. In one city on the east coast a mother threw her
What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17
three-month-old baby off an overpass onto an interstate
highway. A nine-year-old girl was recently discovered in her
parents' closet, having been confined there since birth. In
Philadelphia a father was arrested after authorities discov-
ered him burning his child with lighted cigarettes. The news
media constantly reminds us of human abuse.
The lower panel of one window in Edenton Street United
Methodist Church depicts a scene from Jesus' life. In keep-
ing with the Jewish religious practice of their day, Mary and
Joseph had taken their eight-day-old baby to the temple to be
circumcised by the rabbi. Forty days after his birth, ac-
cording to that same practice, they went back to the temple
to make a sacrifice of purification. This is what we see in that
After the birth of a baby, a woman was thought to be
unclean. This lasted for forty days if the baby were a boy,
eighty days if a girl. This meant that she could go about her
daily business, but she could not go to the temple or partici-
pate in any religious ceremony. At the end of that time, she
had to bring a sacrifice: a lamb and a pigeon if she were
wealthy or doves in place of the lamb if she were poor.
An elderly man named Simeon was in the temple the day
the young couple came to make the purification sacrifice.
Like most people of the Hebrew race, he was expecting a
messiah, one who would save his people from the tyranny of
Rome. Somehow God had revealed to Simeon that this
redeemer would come in an ordinary way — a way that
becomes extraordinary for us because of his life, death, and
resurrection — and he went to the temple that day convinced
that the fulfillment of God's promise was imminent. When
he saw Mary and Joseph come in with their baby, he knew
that God was incarnate in that child. 'T have now seen the
Savior God has given to the world," he declared. Simeon
told Mary that people would not be able to understand how
God could come in such an ordinary way, but he added,
''Your child is a light and he will shine." (Luke 2:32) The
sanctuary window shows him holding the baby Jesus.
It is a beautiful scene. It reminds us of the baptism of a
baby. As with infant baptism, what is really important is
what happened after this scene. What kind of life did Jesus
What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17
have in Nazareth? What happened every day in his home?
Luke reports that ''the child grew and became strong."
Because of his ordinary birth, I feel that Jesus grew up in the
usual first-century Jewish way. His mental, physical, and
spiritual growth depended on his parents, Mary and Joseph.
From what we read, they set a good example. They helped
their child as any good parent does, and he responded to the
training and discipline he received.
It is impossible to look at every facet of the relationship
between parent and child, what is given and what is re-
ceived. Let's look at three ordinary things that Mary and
Joseph offered their child, gifts he accepted: food, protec-
tion, and training.
One of the first requirements of a baby is food. Without
nourishment, an adult can live for about two weeks. Death
would come in a matter of hours to an infant so deprived.
Any parent knows the rigid schedule of feedings and what
rejoicing takes place when the baby takes enough milk to
sleep through most of the night. Even now I can remember
encouraging our babies to drink enough to hold them until
daybreak, and offering them hearty congratulations when
they slept for six hours straight. We can almost hear the
Nazarene parents doing the same with their baby. As the
child's body matures, his need reaches the point when par-
ents have to guide his eating habits. We encourage our
teenagers to eat vegetables, and they respond by eating six
string beans and a little dab of carrots.
Let's shift roles for a minute. Let's put the church in the
parental role and her members in the child's role. The
church offers us food, encourages us to take it. Sometimes
called ''the bread of life," this food is the Bible, the Word of
God. One of the prophets in the Old Testament actually ate
the scriptures. God had told Ezekiel that he wanted him to
be filled with the Word, to digest it and let it become a part of
him. Ezekiel actually took a piece of the scroll on which the
scripture was written, put it in his mouth and chewed and
The church offers us such nourishment in the act of public
worship, in the sermon, in classes, in its library facilides,
and in various other ways. When we accept and partake, we
What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17
find that we do ''increase in wisdom." One minister reports
that a member came in to discuss a problem. As he Hstened,
the minister remembered that he had preached on that very
subject and one of the church school classes had studied it
for six weeks. ''Where were you?" he inquired. Well, be-
cause he had the "sniffles" the week that sermon was
preached, the member had stayed at home. "And Sunday
School is not my thing," he added. He had missed being fed,
and now he was hungry.
There is no reason for any of us to be spiritually famished.
The food is here. It is ours for the taking. All we need is to
respond, to accept the gift.
In addition to food, a baby needs protection. Mary wrap-
ped her baby in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to
keep him warm. Joseph fled to Egypt with his family to
protect them from a hostile king. I was talking with a new
grandfather last week, who delighted in telling me how ac-
tive his twenty-day-old grandson is. The parents had to buy
a bumper pad to put around the edge of the mattress to
protect the baby. Every parent knows that protection is a
basic requirement. Mary and Joseph set a good example by
protecting their son.
The church, like a parent, provides a kind of protection for
us. It is like a greenhouse or an incubator giving warmth and
light. I keep hearing people say over and over again, "I can
be a good Christian without the church!" That's like a plant
saying, "I don't need warmth, moisture, and sunshine."
That's like playing basketball, baseball, or football by your-
self. It may be all right for awhile, but we need to be on a
team to play a real game.
Serving a church in a city is quite different from serving a
church in a small town or a rural area. One noticeable
difference is church shoppers. In a small town there is usu-
ally one Methodist church. If we move to that town and are
Methodists, we will, in all likelihood, go to that church.
When we call on new Methodist families in a city, we are told
that they are shopping for a church and will put us on their
list. And if some member gets provoked at a policy or a
preacher, there is the option of hopping to another
Methodist church in the city. Some of us shop around be-
What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17
cause we sincerely want our needs met; others of us seem to
be searching for the perfect church.
No church is perfect, but it doesn't have to be perfect to
give us the protection we need. A few broken windows and
an unpleasant odor don't keep a greenhouse from providing
what is needed for growing plants. It does not have to be
perfect to do its job. Neither does a church.
We have some friends who have actually been living in the
waiting room of the intensive care unit of a Greensboro
hospital. Their son has been struggling several days for his
life since an automobile accident. They have expressed
gratitude for the support and protection they feel from their
church in Charlotte, and from every other church that that
father has served, and from a host of us who have been
brought together in friendship through the church. The
church does offer protection, but if we would enjoy it, we
must accept it.
In addition to the food and the protection Jesus received in
his home, he also had to be trained by Mary and Joseph. He
had to be potty trained, had to learn to obey his elders, had to
be guided in the language, had to be instructed in the scrip-
tures. Everyone has to undergo training. Athletes, secre-
taries, cooks, musicians don't become experts by accident.
Spiritual training is also necessary. It takes years of training
to be physically and mentally proficient. Spiritual training is
no different. We do not learn to pray or worship or love
without the discipline of training.
A young boy received a clarinet for Christmas. He was
quite excited and decided to learn to play like Artie Shaw
and Benny Goodman. His mother signed him up for music
lessons. The teacher began with the c-major scale, and
rapped out three-quarter time on his knuckles with a ruler.
After an hour the boy said, ''What's this got to do with jazz
music, or Artie Shaw? I'm bored, I quit." He never learned
to play the clarinet.
This seems to be embarrassingly typical of our society
which is impatient with anything that is not instant. We want
everything to be sensational and we want it right now. That
goes for instant breakfast, instant coffee, instant credit,
instant faith. However, if we want to be expert clarinetists.
What Do an Ancient Home and a
Modem Church Have in Common? — 17
we have to pay the price in training and discipline. If we want
a meaningful prayer life, we have to pay the price of practice
One of the stories told about Beethoven is that after
finishing a concert in which he had played exceedingly well,
he was surrounded by admirers. They couldn't say enough
about his piano magic. One particularly enthusiastic woman
said, ''Oh, if God had just given me that gift of genius!"
Beethoven replied, ''It is not genius nor magic, madame. All
you need do is practice the piano eight hours a day for forty
years, and you'll be as good as I am."
The church offers training every week. It is not offered in
a spectacular, super-gigantic way. Through its educational
and worshiping ministry, it offers a consistent and steady
diet of training.
Like the Nazarene family that set such a good example,
the church offers necessary food and protection and train-
ing. Its example isn't as good as Mary's and Joseph's. Often
we fail to respond as well as Jesus did. Above all, perhaps we
need to go back in thought to our starting point of abuse and
make sure we church members do not abuse — wrongly use
— each other.
The gifts offered by those parents and the acceptance by
that child made an ordinary home life an extraordinary
training ground for the life and mission of God's Son. As
Mary and Joseph gave the best they had to Jesus, and he
responded, so the church attempts to give her best to us.
Will we accept what she offers?
In the Temple At Twelve
He Didn't Go Unprepared!
A man walked out of church one Sunday morning and
said, ''My name is Woodrow Wilson." Immediately, dates,
places, and events flashed through my mind: My father's
favorite president, Alexander Knox who portrayed Wilson
in a movie, biographies I have read, The League of Nations,
Edith, the stroke, the heartbreak over his emotional deterio-
ration, his tomb in the National Cathedral. We are told that
the brain is like a giant computer, taping and filing our
experiences. A word, a thought, or a name can cause the
brain to pull one of those tapes out of the file and bring to the
forefront a lot of stored-up information. That's what hap-
pened when that stranger told me his name. I smilingly
replied, 'T've heard of you."
We've all had that experience. Someone makes a remark
or we see something and we come out with, ''Oh, that
reminds me. . ." — andoff the computer goes with all kinds
of memories. It's interesting to sit with older persons and
listen to them reminisce. The other evening I listened as an
eighty-five-year-old man told of his World War I ex-
periences. I was fascinated by the way his mind could recall
details of things that happened sixty-three years ago. He told
them as if they had happened last week. Evidently a com-
ment in our conversation brought out some tapes his com-
puter had stored and preserved for all those years.
Some of our brain computers release a lot of information
when we enter the sanctuary of Edenton Street United
Methodist Church. We remember weddings and funerals
and worship services that were special to us. Seeing the
stained glass windows can activate our tapes. The Joseph
window easily sends me back in memory to a classroom in
the basement of Long Memorial Church, where Nannie
McBroom told us preschoolers about a technicolor coat. A
He Didn't Go Unprepared! — 18
tape of Boy Scout Camp and an amateur dramatization of a
parable of Jesus are played on my computer as I look at the
panel of the Good Samaritan. Conjuring up memories may
be one of the purposes of the windows.
In one of those windows there is a young boy surrounded
by a group of older men. Our computers tell us immediately
that here is the twelve-year-old Jesus being questioned by
the Jewish authorities. We recall that his parents had taken
him with them to Jerusalem for some kind of holiday. On
their way back to Nazareth, they discovered that Jesus was
missing. Their search for him ended in the temple. There he
was, not only asking the religious experts questions but also
answering their questions! His mother expressed her anxi-
ety, which her young son couldn't understand. Our tapes
may also remind us that this is the only information in the
Bible about Jesus' childhood.
It would be easy for us to dismiss our relationship to this
scene by saying, 'That was Jesus and even at twelve we
expect him to be unusual." Although the conversation he
had with the temple leaders is not recorded, it is made clear
that they were amazed at his intelligence and the answers he
gave to their questions; it was rare for a boy of his age to
have such insight. But I believe his participation in the
temple discussion that day was related to what had been
happening every day of his life up to then. There was nothing
magical or supernatural going on, although that may have
appeared to be the case. Jesus knew some things before he
arrived at the temple that day; he didn't go unprepared. Such
knowledge did not fall out of the sky at the appropriate
moment, nor was it whispered in his ear. It was the result of
some ordinary things that had taken place in his home . There
the family's religion was practiced, the faith of his parents
was in evidence, and a creative partnership existed between
his home and the synagogue. This scene is rather ex-
traordinary after all : just think of a twelve-year-old engaging
in a theological conversation with some of our bishops
Let's look at the family religion, parental faith, and
home-church partnership — ordinary things — which pre-
He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18
pared him for this moment and made the sharing of ideas
A number of persons in the miHtary reserve were called to
active duty in the early 1950's because of our nation's in-
volvement in the Korean strife. This meant that families
were disrupted as they moved from civilian life to military
life. One soldier, with his family, was living in a hotel near an
army base. The manager, sympathetic with their confine-
ment to one room, allowed the three small children to use the
lobby as a play area. One day someone noticed one of the
little girls playing ''house" in a corner of the lobby. She had
made a dining table with her tea set, seated her dolls around
it, and was having a ''conversation" with them. "It's too
bad that you don't have a home," the observer said to the
little girl. "Oh, we have a home," the child answered imme-
diately, "We just don't have a house to put it in right now."
That was a lot of insight for a small child, insight which
didn't come suddenly, like "a bolt out of the blue." She
didn't have sentimental feelings about a building some-
where, or a generalized concept of what a home should be.
Her family environment had given her the sure knowledge
that it takes more than a house to make a home.
The home of Mary and Joseph was the kind of place where
religious truth and religious practice were a normal and
natural part of everyday life. That's why Jesus could ask
intelligent questions that day and understand the answers.
He was growing up in a home where religion was a part of
every phase of family life. God, and that Nazarene family's
belief in God, dominated their lives . When they entered their
home, they placed their fingers tenderly on a doorpost re-
minder of God and offered a prayer as they passed over the
threshold. When they ate their meals, they expressed
thanksgiving to the Creator who provided the food. Every
morning and evening Joseph called his family together for
prayer. The religious practices were explained as they ob-
served various feast days and ceremonies in their home.
When the twelve-year-old Jesus was in the temple, it was
very natural for him to be able to ask and answer questions
about the faith. Has it ever occurred to us what might have
He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18
happened if Mary and Joseph had neglected the religious
training of their children the way over fifty percent of us
American parents do?
I have read that sometimes a juvenile judge will put a
youngster on probation and give him specific instructions to
attend Sunday School and church. The judge may even
question parents about the family's religious life. One judge
was hearing the case of a twelve-year-old who was charged
with vandalism. In talking with his parents, the judge asked
if the boy went to Sunday School. ''Well, he hasn't been for
several years," was the reply. The mother gave the excuse:
"We are building a house out from the city. My husband is
tied up with his job all week, so we go out on Sundays to
work on the house."
The judge said, 'Tt seems to me you have been so busy
building a house, you haven't had time to make a home for
this boy. That's why he's in trouble."
Jesus' home was an ordinary, first-century Jewish home
where prayer, scripture reading, synagogue attendance, and
ethical living were a normal part of the daily diet. Family
religion, practiced faithfully, can make a difference in what
happens to twelve-year-olds.
Another ordinary thing behind this scene in the window is
parental faith. When those parents finally found their son in
the temple, Mary let him know how worried they had been.
His response to her was a compliment to their faith: ''Why
are you so surprised to find me here? You taught me that I
should be in my Father's house." He didn't go unprepared.
Parental faith is the basis of good practice in family reli-
gion, and the young Jesus had inherited much of that faith
from his father and mother. He was still in the process of
fashioning his own faith, which was the reason for the ques-
don and answer session in the temple. Jesus was dependent
on the faith of his parents, evidenced by the way he later
referred to some things he had learned at home. There he
was given the kind of foundation life must be built upon.
There he discovered what must be planted in life to insure a
Where did Jesus discover his insight into how a father
loved his children if not from Joseph? I think his concept of
He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18
God was enriched because Joseph was patient and forgiving
and loving. Jesus would have been saddened to hear of the
minister who went to preach at a boy's correctional school
and was told by the chaplain to avoid any reference to the
Fatherhood of God; many of those boys were imprisoned
because of their fathers' failures to be loving.
Jesus learned a lot from Mary and Joseph. He learned that
spiritual values are supreme. His parents could offer him
little material wealth, but he received from them a knowl-
edge that life can be vital and dynamic if love and service to
God and man come first. They also emphasized the impor-
tance of religious habits. There was no question about home
devotions and synagogue worship. When they arose on the
Sabbath there was no ''will we? — won't we?" go to the
synagogue today. It was understood what that family would
do. The parents of Jesus offered no cop-out for their respon-
sibility by saying Jesus could make up his mind about his
religious faith; they didn't want to force anything on him. He
made his own decisions in matters of religion, but he had a
firm foundation for making them. Generally, parents who
support the idea of letting a child wait until he or she is grown
to decide about religious affiliation are parents who have not
been vitally involved in any church, and are actually unable
to advise their children when it comes to faith and religious
A friend and I were riding through Bladen County late one
night after attending a meeting near Wilmington. When we
passed through Elizabethtown, I remarked that my parents
had brought us children to Sunday School and church there
whenever we were vacationing at White Lake. In my years
of growing up, my folks never actually said for me to give my
heart to Jesus. But there was never any question about what
our family was to do on Sunday morning. Whether we were
home or on vacation, we went to Sunday School and church.
I profited by my parents' faith.
We cannot leave out the all-important creative relation-
ship that existed between that Nazarene home and the
synagogue. We can see from the window that Jesus' interest
had probably surpassed his parents' sphere of knowledge.
Haven't we all been frustrated when our children ask
He Didnt Go Unprepared!— 18
questions we cannot answer, especially in certain school
subjects like math, physics, or chemistry? We may have
difficulty explaining family relationships, such as why Uncle
Joe and Aunt Sue can't get along, or why some cousin is a
slow learner. And haven't most of us asked for help when a
child comes with baffling religious questions: What does
death mean? Where did God come from? Why was Jesus
killed? Why are there so many different churches?
Surely Mary and Joseph ran into this with Jesus. They
were probably relieved that he could find some answers that
day. He found some answers they could not give.
This clearly points out the creative relationship that needs
to exist between the home and the church in the religious
nurture of children. The home cannot do it all, and neither
can the church. Today the biggest problem in Christian
education is not that so little time is available each week, but
that we parents fail to cooperate with the church in its efforts
to help our children. The church has an obligation to provide
materials and place and personnel (although I'm sad to say
that the hardest to provide is the latter — we just don't want
to commit ourselves to teach Sunday after Sunday after
Sunday). The home is responsible to see that church atten-
dance is a priority, to incorporate experiences there into
family living. A mother stopped me in the narthex one Sun-
day and said, ''My ten-year-old daughter understands what
is said in the sermon, and we talk about it when we get
home." That's it. That's a partnership of home and church.
The sanctuary window gives us rich insight into the im-
portance of ordinary family religion, parental faith, and the
partnership of home and church and the extraordinary re-
sult. If it happened in Jesus' home, it can happen in our
homes. If it does, the record will read: ''Helped by the faith
these children found at home and church, they increased in
wisdom and in favor with God and man."
The Disciples Matthew 4:18-20
Which One of the Twelve?
It was Saturday morning. Having finished my prepara-
tions for the Sunday service, I was ready to go to the
sanctuary to make a last check to see that everything was in
order. My study was on the second floor of the church
school building, and as I started down the steps, I heard
voices. ''I don't know what he means by letting that guy
come here," was the first distinct thing I heard. I had a
fleeting temptadon to hold back to hear some more, but my
ethical standards refused to let me eavesdrop. At the foot of
the stairs I came upon two church trustees.
One of them immediately tried to cover up their conver-
sation by explaining why they were there. ''We are here to
check on the air conditioning," he said. By this time I knew
which man had made the statement that I overheard.
"You might as well know what we were talking about,"
he addressed me. ''You've got to do something about that
new associate minister."
"What do you mean, Ben?" I inquired.
"Get him to shave that beard or leave. And if you don't, I
know ten people who are leaving the church."
The annual conference had, a month or so prior to that
time, appointed a new minister to our staff. He was young,
good-looking, and well-dressed, and he drove a sporty car.
With all these assets, plus his innate ability, he presented an
attractive image of the ministry to the youth of our congre-
gation. He had been accepted as a vital addition, and there
had already been good response to his work. Then he started
growing a beard and as it became more prominent, so did the
Which One of the Twelve? — 19
ripples of criticism. I knew what was going on, but this was
the first ultimatum Td been issued.
''Ben," I said to that church trustee, ''You know I have
no control over what Bill does with his face. He is the same
person, with or without the hair. You and I both know what
he is doing for the church's youth. Ask your son about it.
Name the ten people who are leaving."
"I'm not calling any names, but you can bet that I'm one
of them," was his last comment.
"Come on, Ben, get off your high horse," the other
trustee advised him.
As I walked on toward the sanctuary, I kept thinking how
difficult it was for Ben to accept any kind of change. We had
had a clean-shaven associate minister for four years which
was fine with Ben, but Bill's different look threw him. I
knew Ben had this same difficulty with change in his busi-
ness, in the school system, and with the youth culture,
especially as it affected his own son.
Ben is not alone in his plight, for all of us find it hard to
change. The bookPassages by Gail Sheehy has a lot of good
insights into some of our life crises, and it talks about how
sudden change is always threatening to us. Like Ben, all of
us live with the inevitability of change. Some of the changes
are totally unexpected and unavoidable; some are devas-
tating. The death of a mate, for instance, turns our way of life
upside down. We are thrown into another world, single
again and lonely. A few months ago an automobile accident
left a twenty-year-old boy an invalid, paralyzed, unable to
talk. In a fraction of a second, a terrifyng change over-
whelmed Rick and his family. A sickness that slowly debili-
tates us affects our routine. Any such event can so break the
rhythm of our lives that we are never the same persons
There are other changes that are easier to take and more
routine, like moving to a new house or to a different city, or
taking another job, but even these have hidden problems.
No one I know really likes to make changes merely for the
sake of changing. All of us have a tendency to get into a
pleasant rut. We willingly obey an old sign on a dirt road:
Which One of the Twelve? — 19
"Be careful which rut you get into, for you'll be in it for the
next twenty-five miles."
Since we do resist change and like our routines, it is a
wonder that we, or anyone, would want to follow Jesus.
There is no question that he calls us to change.
The scriptures from Matthew and a window in the Eden-
ton Street United Methodist Church sanctuary tell a story
about two men who made a drastic change in their life-
styles. We can almost hear Jesus saying, ''Come, follow me.
I will make you fishers of men." Responding to that invita-
tion changed everything for those two, as for the other ten
men who accepted Jesus' call. It changed the way they
looked at life, their concepts of one another, their attitudes,
their thoughts about God.
The one thing we always need to keep in mind when we
think about the twelve disciples of Jesus is that they were
ordinary people, the common folk of that day. They were
like us. None of them were wealthy, academically superior,
or socially prominent. They were not trained theologians
nor high-ranking churchmen. They were ordinary yet differ-
ent, with varied traits, talents, looks, personalities. I find it
quite interesting to glance over that mixture and see how
much we are like them. They are fascinating people to study,
and it is even more fascinating to see where you and I fit in.
Which one of the twelve are we like? Or are we a combina-
tion of two or more of them?
Peter had a yo-yo faith. He was up and down, up and
down in his commitment. He ran hot and then cold. At one
time he declared his loyalty to Christ to highest heaven, and
within a few hours denied that he had ever known him.
Sometimes we church members are like this disciple, on
again, off again. We welcome a minister we like and we are
full of enthusiasm, but when we have one we don't like, we
cool off very quickly. We become nostalgic at Christmas and
declare that we are going to start attending church regularly
again, but by the end of January our enthusiasm fades.
Peter's hroihtr Andrew knew where he stood but didn't
have to shout his faith from the housetops. He was willing to
work in the background and let his brother be out front. One
Which One of the Twelve? — 19
day, instead of directing traffic on a hillside, he was getting
to know the folks, so when the people grew hungry, he knew
who had some bread and fish. The church has a lot of
Andrews, which is the reason it continues to move forward.
These are the members who are always there, serving and
giving without any fanfare. Jesus referred to such people as
"the salt of the earth."
James had a great desire to be important, to have power.
He was just the opposite of Andrew. Once he even asked if
he could have one of the prominent seats in the Kingdom.
There are those of us who serve well, but we are constantly
willing for the church to stroke us. We demand recognition
for what we do, to keep our sagging egos properly boosted.
John, the fourth disciple, was a mixture of tenderness and
temper. He wanted Jesus to destroy a town where the people
would not listen to him; yet he was called the beloved and, at
the cross, assumed the care of the mother of his Lord. A lot
of us are mixtures of temper and tenderness.
The seven last words of the church, ''We have always
done it this way," must have been coined by Philip, the
traditionalist. Like Ben, he was hesitant to make any
changes and wanted things to remain the same. I almost
believe that he would say that we must sing the Gloria Patri,
use the Apostles' Creed, and pray the Lord's Prayer every
Sunday if we really expect to have a worship experience.
Even though he wasn't usually open to change, Philip
recognized the Messiah and went all the way to Cana to let
his friend Nathanael know that Jesus of Nazareth was the
one of whom the prophets had spoken. The fifth disciple was
a bit skeptical at first. ''Can any good come out of Naza-
reth?" he asked Philip. Nathanael was prejudiced. He had
made up his mind that Jesus' home town had a doubtful
reputation and loose morals, and no one of good character
could emerge from that environment. Do we have to look
very far to find some of us who carry fixed ideas about a
race, or a family, or a group?
Thomas was a doubter. He didn't accept any new concept
until he had all the proof within his grasp. He even had some
difficulty accepting the faith because he didn't understand it
Which One of the Twelve? — 19
completely. This sounds familiar to a lot of us, but like
Thomas we are neither heretics nor disqualified followers.
Each disciple had a talent that was essential to Jesus'
mission. Matthew was a businessman, whose organizational
ability assured the wise use of every resource. Any skill we
have, from cooking to singing, from mailing to teaching,
from cleaning to administering, is needed in the work of the
There were two disciples about whom we know nothing,
except that their names appear on all four lists. They are
Thaddaeus and another James, called the Lesser. They
were the silent ones, doing what was needed when it was
needed. The silent forces play a major role in any human
achievement. In the church, there are a host of quiet people
who have no idea how important their dedicated efforts are.
The eleventh disciple was Simon the Zealot, a patriot
singing, ''God bless Israel" and adopting as his motto,
''Country above all else". His enthusiasm, sometimes mis-
directed and misplaced, added a necessary ingredient to that
apostolic group. There are some of us who have a hard time
drawing the line between patriotism and faith.
Judas, whose name we can't forget, allowed his greed and
resentment and disappointment to make him drop out. The
church still loses many capable people for those same rea-
Twelve people are a lot of folks to look at in one sermon,
especially when we could take any one of them and develop
a sermon. Looking at all twelve at once does help us realize
two things. It shows us first of all what ordinary men those
disciples were. They were not saints. They had their faults
and misgivings, as well as their abilities and talents. It points
out again how God works through ordinary people, using
their complementary abilities to accomplish his son's mis-
sion. Looking at all twelve also shows how a mixture of
personalities can come together in a common cause, if the
cause is great enough. For example, if Matthew and Simon
the Zealot had met each other in any other cause, there
might have been a murder. Matthew collected taxes for the
Roman government so he was regarded as a quisling, a
Which One of the Twelve? — 19
traitor to his own country, the moral enemy of Simon the
patriot. Their faith in Jesus brought them together, as
nothing else on earth could have.
Jesus was able to use a variety of people who chose to
respond to him, and his spirit invited them in to a mission
that changed the world. That calling and that mission are still
going on today, for:
''Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
Of our life's wild, restless sea.
Day by day his clear voice soundeth,
Saying, Christian, follow me."
If we will follow, God can merge our ordinary mixture of
personalities into an extraordinary church.
The Feeding of The Five Thousand
Let Go! This is My Carrot!
Years ago I read an unforgettable story by the Russian
novelist Dostoevsky. He tells about a woman who died and
who was in his words, ''consigned to eternal torment." She
was in agony and cried out for mercy. Finally an angel said to
her, "I can help you if you can remember one altogether
unselfish thing you did while on earth." That seemed easy
enough when she remembered the contributions she had
made, the charitable works she had done, and the good
deeds she had performed. When she began to recite all
these, she realized that she had done every one of them for a
selfish reason. Forced to admit to herself that her giving and
good deeds had been done for recognition and admiration,
she became desperate. Finally, about to abandon all hope,
she remembered a carrot she once gave a beggar. She hesi-
tated to mention it because it was dried up, and she was
planning to throw it in the garbage. As a last resort, she told
the angel about the withered carrot. He consulted the record
which showed that the act had not been prompted by self-
ishness. It was not a great unselfish act but it would do. So
down through the limitless space that separates heaven and
hell, the story goes, that carrot was lowered on a string. It
didn't seem possible to the woman that such a weak thing
could bear her weight and lift her out of such torment, but in
her desperation she reached up and grabbed it. As she held
on, the carrot slowly began to rise. All at once she felt a
weight dragging at her feet and discovered other tormented
souls clinging to her, hoping to escape with her. ' ' Let go ! Let
go!" she cried out, ''This carrot won't hold all of us." They
continued to hold on, so she cried out again, "Let go! This is
my carrot!" At that point the string broke, and, still clutch-
ing the carrot she had reclaimed as her own, the woman fell
back into the pains of hell.
I don't like the imagery of heaven and hell in that story.
Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20
but I like the significance of the story. It points out what we
do to ourselves when we Hve by a selfish philosophy, when
we are guided by ''what's mine is mine." The carrot story
reminds me of a lunch box that had several sandwiches and a
few sardines. This particular lunch box exploded and ex-
panded to feed over five thousand people. There is a panel in
one of the sanctuary windows at Edenton Street United
Methodist Church that shows the lunch box. There's an
exciting story about how it arrived on the hillside and
reached Jesus' hands.
It must have been a breathtakingly beautiful day out on
that mountain near the Galilean Sea. The sky was clear and
blue, the air crisp and fresh. The scene is easy for us to
imagine for that countryside must have been very much like
that of Western North Carolina. A crowd of over five thou-
sand people sat down on the newly-green grass with that
panoramic view before them to listen to Jesus speak.
How did such a crowd gather there? The four writers who
record the incident in the Bible offer a couple of ex-
planations. Mark says the followers of Jesus had been sent
out to do some missionary work. When they returned, they
needed time for peace and quiet, so Jesus suggested that
they go on a retreat up on the northern shore of Lake Galilee.
Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had just been killed by
King Herod; reading the account, we're aware that Matthew
senses the shock and anguish this heartbreaking news
brought. When Jesus heard that the brave and beloved John
was dead, he ''went off to a remote area to be alone" in his
grief. The multitudes who gathered wherever Jesus was saw
where the disciples were headed and followed. That meant
no time to recuperate from their wearisome work nor any
chance to adjust to their loss. Any one of us would have been
worn out and distressed to see our plans thwarted, but Jesus
"had compassion on them and began to teach and to heal
The disciples took it as long as they could. As it grew later
in the afternoon, they became concerned about supper.
They had brought along a few provisions for their retreat,
but they would hardly fill the hollow teeth of that crowd.
Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20
They counseled together and came to the conclusion that the
crowd would just have to leave. So they said to Jesus, "It is
already past suppertime. There is nothing here to eat. Dis-
miss these people so they can go to the villages and buy food
on their way home."
'That isn't necessary," Jesus said. ''You feed them."
"What? Feed five thousand people!" they retorted.
Philip said, "We don't even have enough money to buy
food for this many people. Even if we did, the nearest place
to buy anything is a mile and a half away."
Then Andrew spoke. "There's a boy here with five barley
loaves and two fish." He knew the tension was mounfing
and must have realized how ridiculous it was to mention one
lunch box when five thousand people were hungry, so he
added, "I guess that won't help much with all this mob!"
The one box was all Jesus needed. The story of that boy
and his box is written in scripture to remind us what a small,
everyday, common contribution can do. He didn't hide his
lunch somewhere under a rock. He must have been hungry,
as boys usually are, but his generosity was even greater than
his hunger. It is incredible that after all these years we are
sfill talking about the potential wealth of a boy's lunch box.
We haven't quite learned the lesson it teaches. We are still
just talking about it.
Jesus took what the boy offered. The people sat down in
clusters of fifty. After giving thanks (that prayer must have
been one of gratitude for an unselfish lad), Jesus had the
disciples distribute the food among the one hundred groups.
He took what was offered and used it. Jesus still takes what
is offered and uses it.
This incident is recorded by all four of the gospel writers.
None of them offers a slick explanation as to what really
happened. They say simply that five thousand people were
fed. Scripture always leaves the unsayable unsaid. It makes
the announcement and then leaves it up to every age to fill in
the details. The Bible does not care how Jesus did it, or how
God did it.
A lot of explanations have evolved about what really did
occur that afternoon. One explanation is that this was not a
Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20
real meal served on the mountainside. It was a communion
service. In reading John' s account we find that Jesus ends up
talking about himself as the Bread of Life. If we come to him,
he says, we will never be hungry. If we believe in him, we
will never be thirsty.
When we participate in the Lord's Supper in a church
service, we have just a tiny piece of bread and one good
swallow of juice. Symbolically, that small amount is sup-
posed to help us leave the table with new strength, with a
renewed awareness of Jesus' presence. It is a spiritual meal.
It has been suggested that this may have been what hap-
pened that day. The presence of Jesus and the reality of God
turned those crumbs of bread and morsels of fish into
something that spiritually nourished the hearts and souls of
those five thousand people. It was a spiritual meal.
Another explanation is that Jesus actually multiplied the
loaves and fish. We've imagined him waving his hands over
that lunch box so that it expanded into many loaves and
many fish. In fact, there were so many leftovers that they
filled a dozen bushel baskets.
Some of us may have difficulty with this because Jesus
had refused to do that very thing when he had begun his
ministry a few months before. In the wilderness as he was
sorfing out his priorities and deciding how to go about his
work, he said he would not turn stones into bread. He knew
that magic is powerless to make any difference beyond the
There is a third and very lovely explanation. It contends
that not everyone in that crowd left on a nine-mile expedi-
tion without making some preparations. Like that little boy,
a lot of people must have brought along something to eat. On
the other hand, many of them had decided to leave on the
spur of the moment and hadn't brought anything along.
Those who had some provisions refused to bring them out
for the simple and human reason that they wanted to keep it
all for themselves. They planned to eat once they had left the
crowd. When they saw the boy give Jesus his five loaves and
two fish, they thought how sweet he was to make such an
offer. ''That's just like a child," they may have murmured to
Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20
Jesus stood before that crowd and said, 'This is all the
food I have, just what this boy has given me. Let's share it."
When he said that, everyone who had a lunch box tucked
away under a rock or within the fold of a robe brought it out.
They pooled what they had, spread it all out, and everyone
had enough to eat.
If we accept this explanation, I think it's more miraculous
than the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It is the
ordinary becoming extraordinary, Jesus' influence changing
a crowd of selfish people into a crowd of people willing to
share what they had. Instead of sacrificing the miraculous,
this concept substitutes a lasting miracle for temporary
magic. Here was a group of people whose only thought was
to keep what they had for themselves, miraculously changed
into a people who were enabled to share what they had. It is
a miracle when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. We are
eternally awed, not when material goods magically expand,
but when men and women are converted.
A member of our congregation told me she almost inter-
rupted the sermon one Sunday. ''What you are telling us,"
she wanted to get up and say, "is that the picture of any one
of us could be up there in one of those windows!" That's
exactly right. Your image or mine could be superimposed
over that of the young boy, and we would be offering our
lunch box to Jesus. If we did that, then this ordinary church
would become extraordinary.
It's a lovely story and the panel in that window is beauti-
ful. I wonder, in light of what we now know could happen if
each of us offered what we have, why most of us keep
saying, "Let go! This is my carrot!"
The Woman Who Touched His Rohe
Reach Out and Touch
A few evenings ago I listened to some friends describe
their recent trip to the Holy Land. I've read enough about
that little country of Palestine to be able to follow the de-
scriptions of what they saw. They both had difficulty with
some of the commercialization in and around Jerusalem, but
in Galilee there was so much natural beauty that they could
almost picture Jesus in some of the New Testament settings.
That's what I'd like for us to be able to do in this sermon.
I'd like for us to picture in our minds that region where Jesus
lived. Rectangular in shape, Palestine is not as large as
North Carolina. In fact, it's only about 220 miles from north
to south and 100 miles from east to west. If we could take our
state and turn it sideways , we would have a good idea of how
Palestine looks. Up in the right hand corner there is the Sea
of Galilee, which is really a large fresh water lake. On the
northwestern shore of that sea is the city of Capernaum, one
of the most important cities of the first century. It was in and
around Capernaum that Jesus carried out most of his minis-
In our imagination, let's go back in time to Capernaum in
about 30 A.D. Wearing robes and sandals, let's join a crowd
of people standing on the shore of Lake Galilee watching a
little boat make its way across the water. Jesus and his
twelve disciples are coming across the lake. When the boat
docks, there is a sense of excitement and expectancy as
Jesus steps oi;t and stands on the beach, ready to teach. We
are eager to hear what he has to say.
Before Jesus has a chance to say anything, we notice a
ruffling in the crowd about us because someone is making
Reach Out and Touch — 21
his way up front. Catching a ghmpse of the man, we recog-
nize him immediately. He is Jairus, president of one of the
local synagogues. Rushing right up to Jesus, he pleads, ''My
little girl is sick. We know she's dying. If you will come right
now and put your hands on her, she will be well. I know she
Then an amazing thing happens. Jesus, known for his care
for individuals, turns from this marvelous teaching opportu-
nity and this crowd gathered to hear him and goes off with
that distressed father. If you have as much curiosity as that
crowd and I, you'll turn on your heels with us and follow to
see what Jesus does about that sick child.
The streets of Capernaum are narrow, so we are acciden-
tally bumping into one another as we walk along. We try to
stay within earshot to catch anything Jesus might say and of
course to be able to see if he does anything. Following that
anxious father, we are all walking quite briskly. We watch
Jesus, bump against one another, mumble words of apology,
stumble over rough cobblestones, and smile at friends in a
kind of hushed atmosphere. Suddenly, right in the middle of
the street, Jesus stops. All of us stop. He looks intently
about and asks, ''Who touched me?"
It sounds like a foolish question. With this crowd on this
narrow street, any one of a number of people could have
touched him. I imagine the father of the sick child is rather
distressed at this delay. The disciples are impatient. Simon
Peter blurts out, "You see this crowd pushing and shoving.
Anyone could have accidentally touched you." But Jesus
insists that someone deliberately touched him. Again he
asks, "Who touched me?"
A woman in the crowd speaks up, confessing that she
touched him because she desperately needs to be healed.
She tells her whole story, including every cure she has tried
to stop her bleeding. As a last resort, she has come to Jesus,
thinking that perhaps just touching his robe might help her.
A window in our sanctuary shows her reaching out for
Jesus. We know now that her reaching out healed her sick-
ness, dissolved her shame, overcame her fear, put an end to
the loneliness inherent in her illness. The Bible does not
explain what happened medically, psychologically, or reli-
Reach Out and Touch — 21
giously. It simply states that she was cured and her life
transformed. The most exciting thing is that what Jesus of-
fered her that day in Palestine, he offers us today.
We find that this story is so up-to-date, so ordinary and
typical as we listen to Mark's account: 'There was a woman
who had been sick for twelve years. She had been to many
for healing but was no better. In fact, she was worse." She
came to Jesus as a last resort. Doesn't that sound familiar?
How many of us find ourselves in a situation where nothing
we might do could make things any worse? How many of us
will try almost anything, listen to any advice, follow any
plan, try any trick because nothing could make a situation
any worse than it already is? In fact, some situations become
so unbearable that we might even try religion. 'T've tried
everything else," we decide. 'T might as well give God a
How often we make Christ the last resort, the last ditch,
the refuge from dying — rather than making him the primary
citadel, the stronghold, the first line of defense. Our leap of
faith does sometimes become an act of desperation, another
physician among the many others we have tried.
For example, a marriage is on the verge of collapse. It
hasn't happened overnight, for the couple has been drifting
apart for years, so slowly that they have scarcely noticed.
They finally begin to sense the sickness in their marriage and
take certain steps to recapture a meaningful relationship.
They try separate vacations and separate bedrooms. They
increase their social pace or their drinking habits. They seek
outside help and spend money on counseling and group
therapy. Conditions do not improve and they both are suf-
fering emotionally, physically, and materially. Finally, they
decide on a divorce. One wonders what might have hap-
pened if these troubled persons had reached for the hem of
Christ's robe — even reluctantly. Getting in touch with
Christ might have carried with it the possibilities of open-
ness to one another, a sense that life together is worth
greater effort and deeper commitment, an acceptance of one
another's imperfections, and an understanding that fidelity
and solidarity in human relationships demand hard work and
Reach Out and Touch — 21
We know a lot of physicians who are presumptuous
enough to think they can cure the illnesses of our world.
Politicians, educators, clergymen, social workers, business
men, newspaper editors, and homemakers all want to play
physician to the sickness of society. Many of us have a
favorite cancer we want to exorcise. The cure we offer
would rid the world of this or that type of person, this or that
type of ideology. ''Blowup the Pentagon," say the pacifists.
''Rid us of the nationalists," say the internationalists. "Get
rid of the honky," says the black racist, and at the same
moment the white racist advises us to send the blacks back
to Africa. The capitalists want to wipe out communism and
the communists want to bury the capitalists. "Stamp out
male chauvinists" and "dismantle the establishment" are
familiar battle cries. Exorcising people or ideologies rather
than helping persons discover God's way for their lives
leaves us all worse off than before.
One man said that overpopulation is the scourge of the
future. It was his feeling that American foreign aid was
increasing this problem and that we ought to terminate pri-
vate and governmental efforts to sustain life in underde-
veloped areas. Future Americans could be assured of plenty
if we would not assume responsibility for today's world
hunger problems. That solution is so inhumane that we
shrug it off as ridiculous. But that's not our only ridiculous
We seek to cure racial wounds with money, court injunc-
tions, congressional legislation and inspections by Health,
Education, and Welfare officials. All of these help, but that
kind of cure is like taking aspirin for a gunshot wound. Why
do we wait so long to look for the healing of Christ in this
matter? He declares that we are equal and he can break
down any barriers that separate us.
When any human problem besets us or life begins to close
in, when our cities fall or our personal lives disintegrate, it
seems that we seek answers from every other physician
before we reach for Christ's help and healing. More bombs,
more propaganda, more jail sentences are our cures. We try
to solve our troubles with alcohol, divorce, medication,
social involvement. We are reluctant to place our municipal
Reach Out and Touch — 21
or our foreign policies at his disposal. We resist putting our
prejudices, our pride, our hatreds into his transforming
hands. We muddle around in quackery and in desperation.
How long will it be before we reach out to snatch a piece of
that garment that teaches us how to become new persons,
healed of self-centeredness and prejudice, filled with God's
It may sound naive, innocent, unrealistic, but in the New
Testament alone we find true healing. We have turned to
other books, sought out other cures and spent ourselves on
other remedies, but we are no better off. Jesus alone can
redeem and restore and empower us. His presence is not
only for our last days when we're dying, but for now — while
we're Hving. He is not only for those of us who are miserably
desperate, but also for those of us who are serenely confi-
dent. We simply need to follow the Capernaum woman and
reach out and touch the hem of his garment. That will
guarantee healing of anything — anything that might be
A minister writes of an experience he had while serving
his first church. Whenever he went to the barber shop, he
was appalled at the language of one of the barbers. He recalls
that without a doubt the barber was the most vulgar and
profane man he had ever known. ''He must have had some
kind of fixation for preachers," he writes, "for it seemed
that every time I entered the shop, he doubled his output."
One day when he went to get a hair cut that barber was
gone. When he inquired about him, he was told that he had
been desperately sick and had almost died. About six weeks
later, as the young minister was entering the post office, he
heard a faint voice calling his name. He turned and saw the
barber sitting in an automobile. Someone had driven him
downtown and parked the car outside so that he could watch
the people pass by. The minister noticed how frail the man
looked as he walked over to speak. The man's voice was so
weak that he had to lean down to catch the words.
"Preacher," he said, "I want to tell you something. I was
in a coma down there in the hospital. I could not move or
see, but I could hear. I heard the doctor tell my wife that he
didn't think I could live another hour."
Reach Out and Touch — 21
Then his voice broke so that it was a moment before he
could continue. 'T never prayed in my entire life, but I
prayed then. I said, 'O God, if there is a God, I need you
now.' And when I said that, I knew God was right there with
Tears came to his eyes as he finished. ''Oh, Preacher, just
imagine! I've kicked God in the face every day of my life for
sixty years. And the first time I called his name, he came."
With our slightest effort to reach out to Christ, at the
gentlest touch of his garment, he can heal us — now. That
extraordinary touch can literally transform our ordinary
Jesus and The Children
Listen to the Children
Somewhere I heard about a family of three who decided to
go out for an evening meal. After they had been seated in the
restaurant and given a chance to look over the menu, their
waitress came to the table. She politely spoke to each family
member and pulled out her note pad, ready to take their
order. ''What would you like for dinner?" she asked the
five-year-old child. 'Td like a hamburger, french fries, and a
coke," came the reply. The waitress jotted down the par-
ents' orders plus their revision of the child's, and when she
returned with the meal she placed a hamburger, french fries,
and a coke in front of her. ''Hey, she thinks I'm a real
person!" the child said, her eyes brightening. She had been
listened to, and the proof of it was there on the table before
One thing I enjoy about serving a local church is talking
with children when they come on Sunday mornings. The
best place for these conversations is in front of the church
school building before Sunday School. An early worship
service prevents my doing this now, but I still drop by the
children's classes. The conversation isn't quite as free there
because of the setting and the presence of other children and
some adults, but I still enjoy it immensely.
Like public school teachers, I am aware of how open and
honest children are. "We're not coming to big church be-
cause we're going to the beach," I have been told by chil-
dren whose parents blush because they are planning a quick
getaway. "My dad's gone fishing today, so he won't be
here," a child once blurted out to me, even though she was
Listen to the Children — 22
cautioned by her mother "not to tell everything you know."
"My mom and sister had a big fight as we drove out of the
driveway," one child related as we shook hands, "and they
went in the back door so they wouldn't have to see you."
"Yesterday was my birthday"; "These are new shoes, but
my dad hasn't paid for them yet"; "My mother's going to
have a baby" are some bits of information I've gathered
from conversations with children.
Dennis the Menace is one of my favorite cartoon charac-
ters because of his honesty. He is absolutely straightforward
with Mr. Wilson, with the minister as he leaves church, and
with God in his bedtime prayers ("Thank you for a nice
summer . . and we'll sure 'preciate it if you don't get carried
away this winter.")
The frankness of a little book compiled by Marshall and
Hample and published a few years ago. Children's Letters to
God, is not exaggerated. It shows how honest children are
not only when they talk to us, but also when they talk to
God. One little boy named Frank wrote, "Dear God, I saw
St. Patrick's Church last week. You sure live in a nice
house." Barry, interested in church music, put in his letter,
"Dear God, church is all right, but you could sure use some
better music. I hope this doesn't hurt your feelings. Could
you write some new songs?" Bothered about boy-girl rela-
tions, Sylvia asked God, "Are boys better than girls? I know
you are one, but try to be fair." And there was Mike, with a
kind of theological slant: "Dear God, what is it like to die?
Nobody will tell me. I just want to know. I don't want to do
We can gain more in listening to children than many of us
realize. One minister asked some children to evaluate the
worship service in their church. It was an enlightening ex-
perience for him as they talked about the music and asked
questions about the offering. When they reached the ser-
mon, he asked the children how long they thought the ser-
mon lasted. Although he normally preached about twenty-
five minutes, the shortest estimate the children gave was
One incident most of us remember from the life of Jesus is
Listen to the Children — 22
his meeting with the children. We can see this in a panel in
one of the stained glass windows at Edenton Street United
Methodist Church that depicts that scene. We used to sing a
hymn about it:
''I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children as lambs to his fold,
I should like to have been with him then.
I wish that his hands had been placed on my head.
That his arms had been thrown around me.
And that I might have seen his kind look when he said.
Let the little ones come unto me."
None of the three gospel writers who tell this story gives
us any idea about what was said between Jesus and the
children. They all concentrated solely on the impatience of
the disciples who thought Jesus was too busy to bother with
children. However, each of them records Jesus' reaction:
''Let the children come. It's in their open, loving, genuine
spirits that I can see the Kingdom of God. You, too, could be
a part of that Kingdom if you would become like them."
Since Jesus affirms that children give us a lot of insight, I
asked some of them to help me write this sermon by filling
out a simple questionnaire in church school.
The kindergarten children were interviewed by their
teachers since they cannot yet read or write while those in
grades one through six wrote out their own answers. Each
teacher explained what it was for — that I wanted to know
what they were thinking.
My theme for the questionnaire was the family. These
were the questions: ^
What do you think a family is?
Who is in your family?
Why do you think we live in families?
What would it be like if people did not live in
What are mothers like?
What are fathers like?
What do mothers do?
Listen to the Children — 22
8. What do fathers do?
9. Who is the most important person in your family?
10. If you could change one thing in your family, what
would you change?
11. What does your family do for fun?
That means this sermon might have eleven points, which
is unheard of in preaching and might take three hours to
deliver, so I'll just briefly share what I have heard our
children saying about the family.
They were amazingly unanimous in answering the ques-
tions about what a family is. Their answers were given
primarily in terms of relationships. One word, 'Move," kept
appearing in various forms. A family is a group of people
''who love each other," "who belong together," "who
work and care for one another," "who share and are to-
gether, especially on Sundays." Other definitions were
"people who support you," "a lot of friends to be with," "a
bunch of happy people," "a loving bunch." A chill went up
my back when I looked at one paper, and it made me wish
the children had given their names so that I could share the
answer with the parents of that child: "A family is when love
is put together."
The second question, "Who is in your family?" was an-
swered with a basic list of mother, daddy, sister, brother.
Some of the children were very specific, putting names like
Elizabeth, Thomas, Chris, Lara, Elaine, Bobby. Other lists
expanded to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and
cousins. Even a few cats and dogs were categorized as
With only a few exceptions, all the children gave the
purpose for having families in terms of need, support, and
care. We have families, they said, because "you always
need someone to love you," "someone to lean on," "some-
one to listen to you," "someone to help when you get sick."
Two of the children felt that "God made us that way" and
when we have families "it makes him happy." Again, there
was one answer that made me realize how deeply children
do feel: "I think we live in families because everyone needs
Listen to the Children — 22
The real surprise in the questionnaire was the response
the children made to the mere thought of what it would be
like not to have families. More than any other question this
one triggered some of the children's emotions. Having read
their definitions of the family as meaning love, care, and
protection, it was easy for me to grasp why it was so
frightening for them to even consider not having a family.
They answered in brief, emotion-packed words: ''horrible,
sad, lonely, awful, disaster, yukky." The deep feeling of all
the children came out in one child's answer: ''Not having a
family would be like dying." It is interesting, and rather
reassuring, to know that while our society is saying that we
need alternatives to the family, our children cannot conceive
of a world without families.
Their answers to the questions about parents and their
functions were very encouraging to me. "My mother cleans
the house, fixes dinner, and is extra-special." "My mother
works all the time, but is very interested in me when I get
home from school." Their answers were also typically hon-
"Sometimes my mother is mean, but always loving."
"Mothers are loving people with two sides, bad and good."
"My mother tries to act like my best friend, which is dumb. "
"She is sometimes bossy, but also fair." The mothers'
functions went all the way from "packing lunches" to
"being there when needed, ' ' from "changing sister' s pants"
to "being a loving female." Mothers are friendly, helpful,
nice, fun, gentle, and "cool."
Fathers are nice, strong, bossy, friendly, helpful, fun,
kind, gentle, and "loving males." They fix bikes, discipline,
work for money, keep you out of fights, play games, watch
television, help with homework, love, and support the fam-
Children know why fathers work and what mothers do,
and how important these things are. They are also aware of
the time their parents give to them and how important it is for
their development and self-esteem.
"Everybody is special" in the family, they said, and most
of them "like the family the way it is." However, some of
them felt some changes need to be made, and "sisters" got
Listen to the Children — 22
top billing on that one. Bigger allowances and new house-
hold rules also need to be considered, according to their
answers. How to settle conflicts in the family seemed to be
an important issue to some children who wrote: 'Td get my
mother and sister to stop fighting"; "I would change how
much we argue' ' ; ' ' I would change our attitudes towards one
Finally, our children really enjoy their families' being
together whether they are doing yard work, or picnicking, or
taking a trip, or watching television, or eating. As one child
put it, ''talking to each other and enjoying each other."
Children gathered around Jesus, and I believe he listened
to them. As we have listened, there are some things we
should have heard. First of all, our children have many
thoughts and feelings about the family, and we should try to
find out what they are. Second, the roles of mothers and
fathers are not as confused in the minds of children as in the
minds of some of us adults. Third, the traditional idea of the
family as a man and woman who marry and have children is
deeply embedded in the thinking of our children. In the
fourth place, children do look to and do learn from parents,
and we need to give them the kind of guidance that will equip
them for life. The best resource and guide we have is Jesus
Christ, and the best way we can begin is by listening — and
continuing to listen, with our whole hearts — to our chil-
dren. We will begin to find our ordinary family life take on an
extraordinary quality as we listen to the voices of our chil-
dren and Jesus Christ.
He Comes When We Call
One Wednesday evening I was settled in for a good lecture
on 'The Books Between The Testaments." Dr. Lloyd
Bailey, a member of the Duke Divinity School faculty, had
just finished an introduction to the fifteen books of the
Apocrypha and was ready to tell the Wednesday Evening
Fellowship how the books were developed and about the
historical setting of each one. At that point someone tapped
me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, 'There's a man
outside in the hall who wants to see you."
I whispered, ''Did he ask for me specifically?"
Back came the hushed reply, "Well, no, he just asked to
see the preacher."
Regretfully and reluctantly I pulled myself away. In the
hall I found an unshaven, unkempt, bleary-eyed man who
was obviously intoxicated. Before I could tell him that this
was not the month our church worked with transients and he
would have to go to First Baptist a block away, he started
muttering that he wanted nothing from me, he only wanted
to give me something.
"What do you want to give me?" I asked, a little impa-
"Two things," he replied.
"What are they?" (and I wanted to add, "Hurry and hand
them over so I can get back to the Apocrypha.")
"I don't want to give them to you. I want to give them to
God," he answered.
"Fll take them for God," I offered. "What are they?"
"I want to give God my bottle and my cigarettes," he
announced triumphantly. He took from his inner coat
pocket a half-full wine bottle and from his shirt pocket two
packs of cigarettes (one almost empty).
"I want God to take these things because they have made
me look like Satan."
He Comes When We Call — 23
Now that he had gone theological on me, I forgot about the
Apocrypha as I asked, ''Who told you that?"
He managed to explain that an old high school buddy, now
a successful attorney, had given him a five dollar check that
afternoon. He called the bank to make sure it would be
cashed and when the teller asked how she would recognize
the holder, the attorney had answered, ''You'll recognize
him; he looks like Satan."
"No one had ever said that about me. I spent the money
on this booze, but I've been sad ever since. I've been look-
ing for a preacher all over this downtown area tonight and
finally found you . So, here are my bottle and my cigarettes. ' '
We moved from the hall to the chapel. I told Richard (I had
learned his name by then) that we would put those two things
on the altar since they were the things he wanted to give
"But the best thing you can give him is yourself,
Richard." I said to him. "These things are symbols of what
you think is destroying you, but you have allowed what's
inside you to do that."
I tried to explain what the communion table meant, but he
had never heard of Holy Communion. In his forty-nine
years, he had never been to the Lord's Table. I asked if he
knew what the cross on the table meant.
"Yes, Jesus crucified," he answered. Then he continued,
"I don't look like Satan. I look like Jesus. With my long hair
and my beard, I look like Jesus. Do you think I look like
"No," I answered. "You look like a son of God. That
cross means that God loves you like a son."
"Do you think he'll take the bottle and the cigarettes?"
"Yes, and you, too," I replied as I put the bottle and the
two cigarette packs on the communion table and Richard
and I knelt before it.
When he got on his knees, Richard began a private con-
versation with God, declaring that he looked more like Jesus
than Satan. He reached over, took my hand, held on to it,
and then he began to kiss it. I made a stumbling kind of
prayer as he wept.
He Comes When We Call — 23
''Will God take these?" he kept asking.
''Yes, he will, and you, too," I kept affirming.
We got up to leave that strange sight — a bottle of wine
and cigarettes on the communion table in the chapel.
"Where will you stay tonight, Richard?" I inquired.
"Under a bush somewhere."
With two telephone calls I found overnight lodging for
him. He was to return to the church at noon the next day. As
we were leaving the church office, he asked, "Do you think
he'll let me have my cigarettes back?"
"Who?" I inquired.
"God," Richard responded.
"Yes, he'll let you have them back, and your bottle, too."
"No, he can keep the bottle."
Back to the chapel we went to retrieve the cigarettes. He
left the church, headed toward the Salvation Army for
lodging. I waited for Richard Thursday, but he never re-
When I began writing down that experience and how I felt
about it, I began to see a lot of similarities between Richard
and a Biblical character named Bartimaeus. His picture is in
the lower panel of a sanctuary window, which shows Jesus
responding to his call.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. It had
already been an eventful trip. Just as he started out, he had
healed ten lepers; only one of them had returned to thank
him. As he was passing through Jericho, he stopped under a
tree and told the little man perched on one of the limbs that
he wanted to have dinner with him. We know how that table
talk made life different for Zacchaeus. It also happened that
as Jesus was leaving Jericho, a blind man on the side of the
road called out to him, "Have mercy on me. I need my sight.
I want to be healed of my blindness." In response Jesus
released Bartimaeus from his darkness and ushered a glori-
ous new world of light into his life.
What are the similarities between the Biblical blind man
and the man who wanted to give his wine and his weeds to
First of all, they both felt a need. Bartimaeus was blind
He Comes When We Call — 23
and Richard is controlled by something he can't handle,
blinding him spiritually.
Of all our physical senses, perhaps we cherish most the
sense of sight. We sympathize with anyone who is blind. I
read of a blind man standing on the corner with a cup in his
hand and a sign around his neck. The sign read: ''It is May
and I am blind." Can those of us who have sight imagine
what it would be like not to have seen how the blooming
dogwoods and azaleas can turn this city into a pageant of
Bartimaeus sat by a roadside, realizing that his blindness
was causing him to miss so much of life. For a few moments
on a Wednesday night, Richard became aware of his blind-
ness as he zeroed in on two things he thought were causing
How many of us really feel a need? What, in our pattern of
living, is causing us to miss what life has to offer? What is
inside of us that causes everything we touch — friendship,
marriage, other relationships — to go wrong, turn sour, fall
apart? There are some kinds of blindness which are more
devastating than the loss of physical sight. Hatred, greed,
and selfishness are blinding. Guilt, depression, and fear can
rob us of our vision. What are our blind spots? Bartimaeus
and Richard knew. Do we?
The second thing Richard and Bartimaeus had in common
was an intense yearning. We can almost imagine some folks
around Jericho telling Bartimaeus what they had heard or
seen Jesus do. "He brought Jairus' daughter back to life."
''He fed five thousand people with a boy's lunch box." "He
calmed a wild man who lived in the cemetery." "He caused
the deaf to hear and the blind to see."
That was the best news Bartimaeus had ever heard. Hope
began to rise in his heart and his desire to meet Jesus became
an obsession. He thrilled with a new kind of expectancy,
convinced that Jesus could help him. He had realized his
need, and now he yearned for Christ to answer his need.
Wednesday night Richard yearned to have his need met.
So where did he go? Did he turn first to Hillsborough Street,
or the Greyhound Bus Station, or a Five Points beer joint, or
He Comes When We Call— 23
the Carolina Country Club? When Richard really faced up to
things, he headed for a church and a preacher. We don't
know why. It could have been some memory from childhood
days, or hearing of a crucified Jesus on a cross, or a faint
knowledge that the church always cares that brought him
Where do we go when we're in need? How many fads do
we try? We may need a better marriage, or a restored re-
lationship, or a new set of priorities. How many of us feel
that Christ can meet our needs and take them to him? Are we
as convinced as Bartimaeus and Richard were that Christ is
the answer for us?
Richard sought out Christ. So did Bartimaeus. Sitting by
the roadside one day he heard someone in a passing crowd
call out the name of Jesus. When he heard that name his
heart began to pound, and there flashed through his mind the
realization that here was the answer to his blindness.
"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," Bartimaeus
called. That's the third thing he did: he called out for help.
He felt his need, he yearned to have it met, and he called out
No greater moment comes to any one of us than when
recognizing our need and our faith in Christ's power to meet
it, we begin asking for his help. Asking for his help doesn't
mean we have to be gross sinners who crawl to a savior. It
means to ask for help whenever we venture out in life every
day. A couple to be married wants their home to be "a haven
of blessing and a place of peace." If they believe Christ can
help meet that need (as I am convinced he can and attempt to
convince each couple I marry), all they have to do is ask for
his help. We who are parents want to be the best mothers
and fathers possible. If we are convinced that Christ can
help us and ask for his help, it is ours.
All of our prayers of petition are ways of acknowledging
our need to have the right values, the right attitude, the right
feelings. If we are convinced that Christ can help meet those
needs and ask for his help, then we will be amazed at what
happens when our prayers are answered.
Bartimaeus called and Jesus stopped to help. Richard
He Comes When We Call — 23
asked and he found the symbol of God's presence, the
When Jesus responded, Bartimaeus got up, threw off his
old coat, and went straight to the source of new sight. The
coat probably hindered him from moving as quickly as he
wanted to, so Bartimaeus threw it aside. Wednesday night
Richard felt that two things stood between him and his right
relationship to God. Evidently they are because he was so
convinced that getting rid of the bottle and cigarettes was the
way to get his life straightened out.
This fourth thing is difficult for us. We know we have
needs, and that they can be met. We may ask for help, but we
can't quite let go of our attitudes, fears, habits, feelings.
There are disciplines, decisions, and changes that we are not
quite willing to embrace . Bartimaeus did not hesitate to drop
his coat. Richard succeeded in dropping the bottle, or at
least that bottle, but he picked up the cigarettes before
leaving. How many of us hold on to something that hinders
The story of Bartimaeus ends with these words: ''And
immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus." The
story of Richard goes on. He did not come back as he had
promised. I do know that if he ever comes back and offers
the cigarettes and the bottle, he will find that they will be
accepted again and placed on the altar again. I also know
that Christ will be waiting for him to call out, for he will
respond when and as often as Richard calls.
Every time we call, he comes. That's the grace of God and
it is unlike any other thing we can experience on the face of
this earth, meeting our needs and enabling us to accept help,
replacing whatever ordinarily blinds us with extraordinary
The Good Samaritan
I Wonder Why He Didn't
Leave His Name
''Let me tell you the amazing thing that happened to our
son," she began the story. A few of us were having dinner
together, and eager to hear what she had to tell, we urged her
Her son and his girl friend had been to Burlington one
evening for a party and were on their way back to Raleigh at
one o'clock in the morning. All of a sudden, on Interstate
Highway 85, the motor cut off and died. Coasting to the
shoulder, the young man tried to restart the car but couldn't.
He checked under the hood and apparently everything visi-
ble was in place. He left the hood up and stood outside,
hoping that some motorist with mechanical knowledge
would stop to lend him a helping hand.
One car passed. It was driven by a man who was appar-
ently in his early thirties. As he went by, he caught a glimpse
of the stalled car and the two young people. He went to the
next turnoff, circled and came back.
He said, "I know nothing about motors, but let me take
you to the turn-off ahead where I noticed that a service
station is still open." So he delivered the two and waited
while the attendant went out to check their automobile.
Nothing could be done until a mechanic came on duty the
''Where are you headed?" the stranger asked.
"We were on our way to Raleigh."
"I'm headed toward Durham, but hop in and let me get
you two home. I can't leave you stranded out here for the
rest of the night."
On the way to Raleigh the stranger's conversation re-
vealed that he was a salesman, lived in Charlotte, had two
small children, liked to play golf, had been to High Point and
was spending the night in Durham to meet some morning
business appointments. He brought the two here to Raleigh,
/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24
waited to see that they got into their homes, and after being
properly thanked, drove away.
As the son related the story to his parents, his mother
asked, "What was his name?" "Why, he never told me!"
came an astonished reply.
I wonder why he didn't leave his name.
In this series of sermons on the lower panels of the
sanctuary windows, we are looking at some incidents from
the life and ministry of Jesus. With the exception of one, all
those panels have the figure of Jesus in them. Instead of
depicting an incident from his life, this one shows the main
characters in a story he told — a story recorded in the tenth
chapter of Luke's Gospel.
We know the story well. Jesus told it because all during his
lifetime, he was continually meeting people who were trying
to justify themselves, to cover up some of their failures.
These were the people who were trying to convince them-
selves that they were righteous, that they were acceptable to
God because they could recite all the good they had done.
One man in particular, an attorney who was an expert on
the laws of Moses, decided to see how orthodox Jesus'
theology was. "Tell me, Jesus," he said, "what does a man
need to do to assure himself of an eternal place with God?"
Jesus was a wise counselor who knew how to respond to
that question — not with an answer, but with another ques-
tion. So he put it back in the lawyer's lap. "You, sir, are well
steeped in the laws of Moses. What does that law say a man
must do in order to live forever?"
The lawyer replied immediately. "Love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your
strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as
"That's right!" Jesus told him. "Do that and you shall
have eternal life."
The lawyer had done a lot of good. He was considered an
outstanding churchman. However, he knew that there were
certain kinds of people he did not love as much as he loved
himself. He felt that he was justified in his feelings because
such people did not deserve his love, or merit the kind of
love that was extended to him by others. So, like a lot of
/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24
other folks who tried to justify their feeHngs and gloss over
some flaws in their attitudes, the lawyer elaborated:
''Now, Jesus," he continued, ''you and I both know —
what the law says. But which neighbors did Moses mean?
There are some, as I'm sure you are aware, who do not
deserve to be loved."
That's when Jesus told that familiar story of the good
Samaritan. I wonder how many sermons we have heard
preached on that parable. I did an inventory, wondering just
how many times I had used it. To my surprise, I discovered
that in twenty-five years of preaching, I have never used the
parable as the basis of a sermon. I've made numerous refer-
ences to it in other sermons, but it has not been my primary
scripture. In analyzing why, I think perhaps it is because the
lesson is so obvious. An editorial in this morning's (March
18, 1979) News and Observer brought the interpretation
up-to-date in its comment about a number of indifferent
motorists who passed a seventy-five-year-old woman dying
of a heart attack on a Tennessee highway.
There is something about this parable that intrigues me.
Obviously this was not the first time the Samaritan had
helped someone. Yet he did this good deed, as he perhaps
did others, anonymously. When Jesus told the story, he did
not bother to give the man a name. Have you ever wondered
who the Samaritan was? I have. This man used his time, his
wealth, his managerial ability to help a neighbor. Wasn't his
name important enough to include?
Maybe Jesus didn't give it because he wanted to show his
listeners that that man stopped for only one purpose, to help
a neighbor in need. He did not stop so that someone would
call him a hero, to get his name in the paper, to enhance his
profession, to make more sales, or to be stroked and patted.
Maybe Jesus is trying to show us that if we shout from the
housetop the good we do, or expect recognition, or pout if
we are not stroked, or threaten to quit if we are not ap-
preciated, then the good we do is not enough. Our kindness
and generosity are only genuinely Christian when they go
hand-in-hand with gentleness, humility, and selflessness.
/ Wonder Why He Didn't Leave His Name — 24
Somewhere Jesus said something about not even letting one
hand know what the other hand is doing.
Let's give this man in Scripture a name. Let's call him
John Samaritan and put him in our world. Can't you envision
the historical marker on the road between Jerusalem and
Jericho? ''On this spot in the year 31 A.D. John Samaritan
performed his famous deed of compassion toward a
wounded man." Certainly the hotel where John lodged the
wounded stranger would be renamed The John Samaritan
Inn by now. It's easy to imagine a huge sign standing on a
vacant lot next to a hospital announcing the future site of the
John Samaritan Home for Beaten Travelers, being built by
the million dollar donation of Mr. John Q. Samaritan. Of
course, there would be a John Samaritan commemorative
medal and bumper stickers urging us to ''Come and hear
John Samaritan, the chaplain of Jericho Street." After-
wards, the audience would be able to purchase the latest
book which told once again the true story of how John
Samaritan personally saved a victim of highway robbery.
The book's title, of course, would be My Deed of Kindness.
Perhaps a beautifully-engraved invitation would come in the
mail one day: "You are cordially invited to attend the an-
niversary of John Q. Samaritan, friend of beaten travelers."
John's name would be followed by a list of honorary de-
grees. The reception would be held at the John Samaritan
Inn in the Willie Leper Room, named for the one who came
back and thanked Jesus.
That sounds frivolous, but it is a way of pointing out one
reason the Samaritan did not leave his name. Those people
who deserve monuments do not need them. We still re-
member this man from Samaria without any of the
paraphernalia that our world resorts to. People who perform
deeds of mercy and acts of kindness without leaving their
names keep the faith alive.
In an Upper Room (March 16, 1979) devotional,
J. Ellsworth Kalas of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, reminded
himself and us of how we stand on the foundations of the
efforts of unnamed people. When he asked how old a church
/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24
building was, he was given an answer that made him realize
this. 'This building," he was told, "is about 250 years old. It
was built on the foundation of the previous building, which
in turn was built on the foundation of an earlier building. All
in all, I estimate it goes back at least 900 years."
There is a plant called the fire weed. Its technical name is
Rosebay Willow herb. The plant grows in the most unlikely
places you can think of. It can usually be spotted in the ruins
of a burned building or along the walls of a neglected house.
Its flowers are a contrast to the debris around it. During the
Second World War, the fire weed became a symbol of re-
newed life in England because it could be seen growing
among the rubble that resulted from the bombings. The fire
weed is sort of a symbolic expression of a Christian who is
always there to help, using time and money and ability amid
the suffering of the world, although that Christian's name is
not remembered or even left.
A minister in New York City writes of a very touching
incident he saw while on a subway one evening. It was cold
in the city, the temperature way below zero. At one of the
stops, a woman boarded the subway. She was a real mess,
ragged and dirty and obviously drunk. She sat down and
immediately fell asleep, or passed out. What impressed him
most were her gloves, or what had at one time been gloves.
Quite literally, he says, there were more holes than material.
Her hands were not frostbritten, but the exposed knuckles
were so red that they had to be painful. The minister reports
that he sat there looking at the wretched woman, wondering
how often she spent a whole night sleeping on a subway and
if there was any hope for her. The train stopped and a
number of passengers rose to leave. Among them was a
teenager who apparently had also been studying the woman.
As he moved toward the door of the subway, he slipped off
his own gloves, and as he passed her, he dropped them on
her lap. He neither stopped nor left his name as he went out
We have just been through another basketball season in
which we hoped that one of our teams might emerge the
victor again. A few seasons back, UCLA won the cham-
pionship. Someone asked the coach of that team to explain
/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24
their phenomenal record of eight championships in nine
years. "It is amazing," he replied, "how much can be ac-
complished if no one cares who gets the credit."
I have often wondered, and have even been asked, why
the church doesn't receive large bequests and endowments
like a university. The obvious answer is that other institu-
tions offer the donor more recognition. The church assumes
that gifts are made with the kind of spirit that doesn't need to
leave its name. It's astonishing how much can be done when
we focus on what needs to be done instead of the need to be
appreciated. A church can accomplish the miraculous if
none of its members care who gets the credit. I wonder why
the Samaritan didn't leave his name. But does it really
I heard the story of a whimsical dream; the setting was the
pearly gates. A blustering businessman arrived and briskly
made his way to an admissions desk. St. Peter asked him
what role he would like to play in heaven. The question
took the man by surprise because he had assumed heaven
would be a place of rewards, not a place to be assigned roles.
Although he was a church member, he had not given any
thought to the nature of the afterlife nor had he prepared for
it. There flashed into his mind the words of the only hymn he
knew, one he had learned years before in Sunday School.
His answer was one line from that: "I want to be an angel
and with the angels stand." St. Peter, very much like a
personnel officer, took out pen and paper and said, "Let's
see now, what experience have you had?"
We can read and talk about the unnamed man in that
window, but it has meaning for us only when we superim-
pose our picture on his and gain some experience in doing
good in a gentle, humble, self-forgetting way. Then our
ordinary yearning for recognition and appreciation will turn
into an extraordinary sense of doing God's will in God's way
— and we'll have the greatest reward of all: true happiness,
I believe I know why he didn't leave his name.
The Upper Room
Will We Claim
The other evening at dinner I heard an old joke. It was
about four preachers who played a round of golf together
every Monday morning. One day as they started out, they
decided that each would make an open confession of his
major sin to the others. The Methodist minister was the first
player to tee off. Just before he addressed the ball, he told his
three colleagues that he secretly smoked cigars. After the
evening meal, he would sneak into the basement of the
parsonage and have a good smoke. The Baptist preacher
confessed that dancing was his one besetting sin. He would
close the drapes of his house at night, load the stereo with
records, and dance with his wife for hours. The Presbyterian
clergyman was a bit hesitant to admit his sin, but he finally
told the others that he craved an alcoholic drink every after-
noon before dinner. The Congregational minister readily
acknowledged his weakness for gossip, adding that he could
hardly wait to get the rumors started about the smoking
Methodist, the dancing Baptist, and the drinking Presbyte-
Sometimes I feel as though I'm gossiping when I read the
back page of The Raleigh Times. Everything printed there is
public record, but I often feel as if I am prying into other
people's private business when I read about deed transfers,
building permits for minor repairs, divorces filed, divorces
granted, marriage licenses issued, and drivers' licenses sus-
pended. When I read about wills that have been filed with
the Wake County Register of Deeds, giving the value of a
person's estate and listing the beneficiaries, I almost blush.
My besetting sin must be like that of the Congregational
Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25
preacher in the joke, for I turn to that private business
almost immediately and read the whole works. If any wills
are listed, I read them first.
Have you ever read a last will and testament? Most adults
have had an attorney prepare one for them. We should all
know what happens to our estates if we die without leaving a
will. Any of us who are connected with any kind of institu-
tion are constantly reminded of tax benefits that can accrue
to our estate if a non-profit institufion is included among the
beneficiaries. Duke University, now in the midst of its an-
nual alumni-giving effort, has a new item on this year's
pledge card: Have you included Duke in your will? Most of
us know what a will is.
Did you realize that Jesus made a last will and testament?
He didn't have a lawyer write it for him and have three
people witness its legality as we must now. One of his
disciples wrote it down. At least, John put down what he
could remember when he wrote his gospel some sixty years
after Jesus had died.
Jesus gave his will to the disciples on a Thursday evening,
the night before his execution. He gathered his twelve fol-
lowers in an upper room in Jerusalem and did three things.
He took a towel and a basin of water and washed their feet.
He also took bread and wine and told them that such every-
day elements could be symbolic of his presence. The third
thing Jesus did was to give his last will and testament. John
thought this was so important that he took one-fourth of his
gospel, five out of twenty-one chapters, to record it for us. If
we were to take it off the pages of the Bible and transcribe it
on a legal document, we would easily recognize it as the last
will and testament of Jesus Christ.
In one of the sanctuary windows in Edenton Street United
Methodist Church we can see thirteen men seated around a
table. The scripture on that panel refers to the last supper.
We obviously remember that meal when we look at the
window. But I think it would be well for us to recall that we
became heirs that night, beneficiaries of the last will and
testament of Jesus Christ.
My own will has seven sections, or seven articles. The
Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25
first two state that all debts, including funeral expenses, cost
of administration, estate and inheritance taxes, are to be
paid from my assets. Articles three and four read that
everything I own is to go to certain people. The names of
those who are to have my clothing, household goods, auto-
mobiles, property, library, writings, and money are listed.
The fifth section appoints a guardian of my minor children
and of properties if my wife does not survive me. The last
two articles name the administrator of my estate, and give
some circumstances under which that might be changed.
It is not necessary for us to go back in time and imagine
ourselves listening to Jesus give his last will and testament.
It is not necessary because the will is still being probated.
Heirs are still learning of their inheritance and beneficiaries
are still receiving gifts from his estate. Every day on the back
of The Raleigh Times the will of Jesus could be listed as a
current one, for it is continually being filed and probated. I'd
like to pretend that I am a lawyer reading that will. It would
take too long to read the entire document, so I will condense
it into three articles. In doing so, I would suggest that each of
us might occasionally pull out the original document and
read it in its entirety. (John 13-17).
Article I of the Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ
might read like this: ''You must not be distressed, for
everything is taken care of. There are many rooms in my
Father's house and I have a place ready. You will be wel-
Most wills have a section that states clearly that any
expense, or debts, or taxes, or administrative costs con-
nected with a person's estate are to be paid out of the assets
of that estate. The first article in the will of Christ is an
assurance that things are taken care of. It states, in essence,
that we are not to worry about what's to happen after death.
'T have taken care of it," Jesus says, ''and I can assure you
for yourself or anyone you love that preparations have been
I read of a minister who was dying. His family had been
called home, and they were all gathered around his bedside.
He looked up from his bed and said to those grieving, "You
mustn't be sad. All my life I've preached to people about
Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25
the joys of heaven. Now I am going to discover them for
myself." With his marvelous sense of humor, he added,
''And when I get there, I will send you my address."
That man caught the spirit of Jesus as he claimed his
inheritance. He did not have to know every detail of the
place. He had an assurance in the will of Christ that the place
is prepared. That's the essence of the first article. Every-
thing is taken care of.
The second article of this last will and testament is a bit
long, but it states basically: 'T leave you my peace, my
friendship, my joy."
There is a true story about a man whose relatives were
assembled after his death to hear his will read. He had not
been a wealthy person, so the relatives all thought it strange
that they should be summoned to hear the will since he
obviously had nothing of material value to leave them. They
soon learned why they were there as the solicitor read parts
of the will. "To my brother Alex I leave my sense of humor
inasmuch as he has never cracked a smile in his life. To my
cousin Sarah I leave my optimism, to mitigate her habitual
gloomy and pessimistic view of everything. To my nephew
Richard I leave my standard of values, in the hope that it
may help him to learn that a man's life does not consist of the
abundance of his possessions." On it went, this legacy of
spiritual qualities he left to his relatives. None of them were
negotiable in terms of tangible assets, but all of them were of
surpassing worth in terms of abundant living.
Jesus had nothing of material value to leave his disciples,
except the clothing on his back, and that was soon to become
the property of the soldiers who executed him. Yet in those
closing hours of his earthly life, he dictated a last will and
testament that tells of the richest legacy ever bequeathed to
one human being from another.
My personal will reads: 'T bequeath all clothing, all
household goods, all personal property, all real property."
The will of Christ reads: "Peace I leave w th you. My peace I
give unto you."
The peace of Christ is a sense of inner harmony and a
sense of well-being that are quite independent of outward
Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25
circumstances. It is not a peace that means the absence of
conflict, or distress, or trouble, or hardship, but a peace that
keeps us steady in the face of any adversity. St. Paul says it
is beyond ''all understanding."
Christ also bequeaths us his friendship. ''You are my
friends and I call and choose you as my friends. Greater love
has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his
In willing us his friendship, Christ assured us that he will
stand by us no matter how unworthy we think we are, no
matter who else forsakes us. This inheritance is a friend who
loves, encourages, and strengthens us, and brings out in us
our best qualities.
"My joy will be in you and your joy will be complete" is
another glorious facet of this inheritance. Christ leaves that
same radiant spirit, that same delightful merriment that
characterized his life. Joy was part of his life because he
trusted God and obeyed the Father's commandments. Joy is
a part of a Christian's emotional equipment, not because it is
cultivated but because Christ gives it to us. If we fail to be
joyful, we are like persons who live in poverty because they
refuse to claim their rightful inheritance.
The first article of the last will and testament of Jesus
Christ assures us that everything is taken care of, and the
second leaves us his peace, friendship, and joy. Article III
reads, "You will have someone to stand by you, to be with
you always: The Holy Spirit."
My will states that "If my wife shall not survive me, I
appoint so and so to be guardian of the persons and
properties of my minor children." That article was included
so that someone will be responsible for our children if we
both die at the same time.
The disciples who gathered in that upper room to hear the
will of Christ were concerned about how they would be
guided, in what direction they should go, and who would
take care of them after his death. So he reassured them.
"When the spirit comes, he will guide you. The Divine
Helper will show you the way. The spirit will standby you."
In fact, five times in this last will and testament Jesus reiter-
ates the promise of that Spirit. The Bible records the gift of
Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25
the Spirit and how it guided, directed, and aided those early
disciples. It is still our inheritance, the supreme legacy that
Jesus bequeathed to his church and to us.
"What is the wind?" a little boy asked his grandfather. ''I
don't know," answered the old man, ''but I know how to
hoist a sail and catch the wind." What is the spirit? ''I don't
know," says the believer, ''but I know how to hoist the sail
of my soul and catch the wind of God's Spirit."
I'd like to rent some space on the back of The Raleigh
Times and put there, under "wills": "Jesus Christ, who died
in 33 A.D., left an estate of unbelievable value: an assurance
that everything is taken care of, his peace and friendship and
joy, and God's Holy Spirit. The beneficiaries are all those
who will accept their inheritance."
The legacies of Jesus Christ are ours, but like all bene-
ficiaries, we must lay claim to them. If we do so, our ordi-
nary anxieties, loneliness, and stumbling will become ex-
traordinary security, companionship, and surety.
Has Your Heart Ever
There is a Greek legend called the Myth of Sisyphus. It is
the story of a man being punished by two of the ancient gods,
Pluto and Mercury. His lifelong punishment was to push a
huge rock up a mountain and then, just as he reached the top,
have to watch the rock slip by him and go crashing down into
the valley. Sisyphus then had to start all over again, pushing
the rock up and watching it go back down. He was con-
demned to do that until he died.
At times, for all of us, life seems to be that way. We give
life all that we have, and just as we begin to think maybe it's
enough, we realize that we have failed again. We carefully
hoist the sails of our hopes, looking around to see if every-
thing is safe, and then from our blind side something or
someone slips up to knock the wind out of our sails. We
struggle to overcome our feelings of inadequacy or inferior-
ity, and our gradual progress is abruptly interrupted by
someone who puts us down. We work hard to help others
overcome their deficiencies, and about the time we feel good
about their improvement, everything we thought was
''nailed down'' comes loose.
Keeping heart in this kind of world, which is the only one
we have, can be a tremendous undertaking. Our Lord knew
that when he lived here. In the lower panels of the sanctuary
windows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, we
see in stained glass what he went through. Each represents
one of his attempts to ''push the rock to the top of the
mountain," and show us what life can be even in our world.
Jesus' life story, like ours, began in an ordinary way with
the birth of a child. His coming into the world like we come
was God' s way of saying, "Don' t wait for the supernatural or
Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26
the otherworldly, but watch for me in the ordinary, in the
everyday, for that's how I come to you." The events of that
child's life show the humanness of God's continuing revela-
tion to us. He was nurtured in a family where religion and
faith were a normal part of life. As a young man, choosing to
carry out the mission God had given him, he selected ordi-
nary people to help him, twelve men who in spite of their
diversity in personality, were unified in their loyalty to him.
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus discarded any
thought of proclaiming the faith by impressing people with
magic. He would not turn stones into bread, or leap from the
temple, or rule over earthly kingdoms in order to show his
lordship. He would carry out his Father's ministry by
showing the people of his day what God can do with the
ordinary. Remember the boy's lunch box on a hillside? With
a simple everyday lunch box he demonstrated what can
happen when we let go of selfishness and self-centeredness,
making ordinary things seem extraordinary. When we think
of his patience, we are awed by his almost supernatural
patience with us. We think of how we try everything under
the sun to heal our brokenness before we turn to touch his
garment, which is always available. He counseled us to let
the childlike virtues of trust and honesty be the hallmarks of
our relationships and assured us that he would come when
we call, but would never force himself upon us. Since we are
surrounded by unlimited opportunities to show love and
neighborliness and concern, he told us, with a simple story
about a Samaritan, how to go about our ministry; gently,
humbly, self-forgetting. He even read his last will and testa-
ment to show that an inheritance of peace, friendship, and
joy would be ours, as well as that steadfast spiritual presence
guiding and directing us all the days of our lives.
Now, after all this — after those thirty-three years of
human life in which God was so intensely present — it
became obvious to him that his revelation was being re-
jected. The rock had been pushed to the top of the mountain,
but it was beginning to slip, soon to crash. The sails of his
hope had all been hoisted, but the wind was being knocked
out of them.
Has your heart ever been broken? Have you ever felt
Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26
totally defeated when something didn't work out? I believe
Jesus felt that brokenness, that defeat, when he realized that
the rock was falling back and the sails deflating. As he knelt
in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was crushed because his
revelation of his Father was not accepted.
Jesus and his disciples left the upper room after having
supper. They went out to an orchard of olive trees, which we
know as the Garden of Gethsemane. At the entrance, he
instructed eight of the disciples to wait while he and the
other three went further into the grove. He told Peter,
James, and John that the sorrow in his heart was so great it
almost devastated him. He then went a few yards away from
them and fell to the ground.
The gospel writers don't often try to describe the emo-
tions of Jesus. Briefly they tell us that he wept when his
friend Lazarus died and that he stood outside Jerusalem and
cried because that city could not see the real way to peace.
But in Gethsemane they let us see how emotional he was,
how overcome he was by distress and anguish. He threw
himself to the ground, his fingers clawed the dirt, and he
cried, ''Why? O God, is there any other way? What more
can I do to help people see? How can I help them under-
stand?" His agony was not caused by the prospect of dying.
He knew how to handle death. The prospect of physical pain
did not do him in. He cried out because, by all human
standards, his mission seemed a failure. His heart was bro-
ken because God's revelation was being rejected. On his
hands and knees he prayed, ''Do I have to drink this cup of
bitterness? Is it possible for it to pass away? Is it possible, O
Father, for you to take away their freedom of choice and
make them accept? Can you remove this loneliness, my
The Gethsemane window reminds us that Jesus had to
drink the offered cup. He had to watch then, as he does now,
his words and works dissolve in failure. His prayer then and
today is, "O God, can the cup of rejection pass from me? Do
I have to see people turn aside? Do I have to watch those to
whom I offer friendship refuse me?" Jesus had to watch
what evil can do to goodness. He had to witness how the
finest efforts in life can be betrayed. He had to know how
Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26
hopes can be cut short. Jesus had pushed the rocks of
selflessness and humility and meekness to the top of the
mountain, and now they were slipping by him, rolling back
down. Self-righteousness and pride and power were tram-
pling down simple faith and sincere devotion. And Jesus was
asking in the garden if there was some other cup he might
drink. He was almost asking if there was a way in which God
could command the people of the earth to accept what he
had to offer: the way to real happiness.
We were granted freedom at creation — freedom to
choose or to reject God as symbolized in the Genesis story.
That picture of Christ in Gethsemane shows the agony that
God himself suffers when we choose not to accept. We can
reject the values of faith, the miracles of sharing, and even
an inheritance of peace and friendship. Christ will accept our
rejection, that cup that we offer, even though it breaks his
heart and causes him grief.
I still have difficulty with a theology that says God de-
manded the death of his son on a cross. I have difficulty with
it because it leaves me with none of the responsibility. The
same attitudes that nailed him to a cross in 33 A.D. are still
being hammered away at today. The window which shows
him kneeling in a garden, agonizing over the cup being
offered to him, reminds me that he is still there. He is still in
distress and is continuing to accept whatever cup we offer.
We all need to remember that Jesus drinks a little and dies
a little whenever you and I reject him in anything we think or
say. Whenever we hold on to our selfishness and look in
every direction but his, he drinks a Httle and dies a little.
Exalting our name above his and refusing to accept our
inheritance makes the bitterness of the cup still poignant. He
drinks and dies when we proclaim him in a service of wor-
ship today, but ask that we not be bothered tomorrow
morning when we are back at the business of making our
way in the world. He drinks a little and dies a little when any
of us whom he loves so dearly rejects him.
And yet, in those same simple, ordinary ways, God keeps
trying, keeps offering himself and his way to us. That's
Not Really ... No One Could
Love Me That Much!
''I want you to save my marriage," he said as he came into
the study. His minister explained that there was nothing he
would rather do than to save the marriage, but he did not
have that kind of power. He assured the man who made the
request that he would help him look at some possible ways of
salvaging what was left.
The rejected husband was desperate for he was about to
lose a mate he had abused, verbally if not physically. By his
own admission, he had taken his wife for granted. Now he
was willing to pay any price to get her back. He declared that
he would subject himself to marriage counseling, participate
in group therapy, attend enrichment seminars, and even go
to church with her. He would crawl on his hands and knees
to her if she would take him back.
The minister promised to talk with his wife. When he did,
there was no doubt in his mind that she was not interested in
restructuring the relationship. She wanted out of the mar-
riage. Her intention was clear when she said, ''My love for
him was the most real thing I have ever known. But that love
died seven years ago, and I am not willing to live with a
ghost." She showed no emotion, no tendency to break
down, no tears when she made that statement.
"You seem so sure of yourself and what you want," the
'Tve had seven years to think it through," she answered.
''Could you tell me what makes you so certain that your
love has died?" he asked. "What feelings do you have to
reinforce that conclusion?"
She didn't hesitate in giving her answer. "I can best
Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27
describe it this way. I have been hurt many times by him and
overlooked a lot of those hurts. I tried to let time blot out the
others as much as possible. This v^ent on for ten years.
Occasionally, he would apologize for an insulting remark or
some insinuation he had made. That would always make me
hope that things were going to change, and I'd try again.
Something happened seven years ago. Our youngest child
was born, and he never came to see me while I was in the
hospital. One day he came by the nursery to get a glimpse of
our child, but he was in too big a hurry to come by my room.
That was enough to crush any wife, but I realized that his not
coming did not hurt. That's what scared me, for then I knew
that our marriage was over."
Her simple, straightforward words, ''his not coming did
not hurt," tells a whole lot about loving and being loved.
When hurtful actions no longer have the ability to hurt, love
There is a window in Edenton Street United Methodist
Church that shows us something about love and how deep it
can be. When we look at it, we can almost miss its meaning
because it is difficult to understand. We can miss it because
somehow it isn't quite real to us.
It is the picture of an execution, but it doesn't seem as real
to us as the execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah two years
ago. He stood before a firing squad because he was con-
victed of murder. We read about it and it was real. When
John Spenkelink's head was covered with a black hood and
pellets of gas were dropped beneath his chair at a peniten-
tiary in Florida, it was a real execution. The papers recently
carried the news that the prime minister and six other men
were executed in Iran after the Shah's exile. Decisions by
the Supreme Court and state governments on capital
punishment are real decisions and the media keep us aware
of them. We have no doubt that they are real.
The crucifixion of Jesus isn't quite that real to us. It is kept
before us for we continually talk about it and sing about it in
church. We have a tendency, however, to dismiss as not
quite real some of the things we talk and sing about in
church. We put these remembered events in the super-
natural category, thinking of them as other-worldly or as
Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27
fantasy. Even as we look at the sanctuary windows, we have
the feehng that all the Old and New Testament characters
are not real, or at least not of the same flesh and blood as we
are. Even the events about Jesus, from his birth to his trial,
seem to be some fantastic fairy tale. If we feel that Jesus' call
to follow, his tender way with children, his legacy in the
upper room, and his cry in the garden are only inventions of
a story teller, then his execution on a cross cannot be more
than an illusion.
But it's real!
It happened on a Friday morning. A procession of people
made their way along a side street in Jerusalem. They moved
outside the city walls to a hill shaped like a human skull. It
was called Golgotha because it was the gas chamber, the
gallows, the electric chair of that day.
It was only nine o'clock. The doves were circling over-
head, and the birds were singing in olive trees in the sur-
rounding orchards. Jesus, who had been through four trials
during the night, was one of three persons condemned to a
criminal's death on a cross.
A hole was dug in the ground for the cross. His thirty-
three-year-old body was laid out on the main beam, and his
arms were stretched along the crosspiece. A nail was ham-
mered into the palm of one hand and then a second nail
through the other. The soles of his feet were made flat
against the main beam, and a larger nail was driven through
both. The cross was then lifted up and dropped into the earth
with such a jolt that the nails tore the muscles in his hands.
He hung there until he was pronounced dead.
It really happened. I wish I could tell you it didn't! Two
other men were executed on either side of him, so it was not
unusual, or out of the ordinary, or supernatural. It was as
real as the squad firing at Gary Gilmore. It was as real as the
Florida gas chamber in which John Spenkelink died. It was
as real as what happened in Iran. But it is almost unreal in
what it says to us.
It speaks to me of a love that will go to any length, suffer
any rejection, endure any hurt, face any pain to assure me of
its reality. It is difficult for me to understand how any love
could be that great, how any one could love me that much. I
Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much! — 27
can identify with that wife who, after so many years of
rejection and abuse and hurt, would reach the point where it
simply did not matter any more, but I can hardly grasp a God
who can never get beyond caring that I reject and ignore
him, and attempt to live without him.
The crucifixion is a constant reminder that the love of God
is alive. It's alive because what we do and say and feel can
always hurt it, hurt it with as much intensity as Jesus experi-
enced on Golgotha.
We can get a taste of such hurt in our human relationships.
In an Alabama prison, John Louis Evans, III , is waiting to be
taken to the electric chair where he will be put to death
because the court found him guilty of murder and decreed
that state law demanded his execution. His mother has been
pleading for a stay of that court order. Because we are not in
her position, you and I cannot comprehend the intense pain
and hurt she feels. If Mrs. Evans no longer loved her son,
what he did and what was happening to him would not affect
her. She could, like a lot of detached spectators, watch him
sit in the electric chair with either indifference or approval.
I have a friend whose wife, after seventeen years of mar-
riage, is threatening to leave him. She feels so much anger
and hostility that she is virtually exploding. She is striking
out against God and the church and since he, as a minister,
represents both, she is releasing all her attacks on him as
the cause of her unhappiness. His pain is as great as hers,
but he continues to reaffirm his love for her. In spite of
all the rejection he's experiencing, he stands by, praying and
hoping that the steadfast and continued love he feels for her
will save her and the marriage.
We could scan the surface of this earth and uncover un-
numbered people who bear inflicted pain and hurt because
they love. How many faithful mates do we know who stay
with an alcoholic for that very reason? How many parents
stand by ready to rescue a child who takes wrong turns in
life? Whenever we dare to love another person, we become
A writer named Clarence McConkey gives a portrayal of
how love makes us vulnerable. He tells of an eight-year-old
girl who, because of brain damage at birth, is deformed.
Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27
Weighing only twenty pounds, she has no control of any
bodily function. Since she cannot swallow, she is fed
through a tube inserted in her throat. The neighbors cannot
bear to look at the child. Doctors advise the parents to place
her in an institution, but they cannot do that. The family is
poor, uneducated, and not acquainted with simple laws of
health and hygiene. Every night when the father comes
home from work, he chews food from the table and forces it
from his mouth into the tube and down the throat of his
deformed daughter. Although this method is not very sani-
tary, doctors say the child will never starve to death. That is
a vivid picture of vulnerable love: a loving father holding a
frail bit of unlovely life which is made lovely by his love.
A chaplain at the Medical College of Virginia tells how he
became involved with the parents of two-year-old Kim, born
with congenital heart defects. She had undergone all kinds of
treatments and tests. Surgery was deemed necessary to
repair her damaged heart, and her doctors warned her par-
ents of the high risk involved. During the operation, the
chaplain sat with and listened to the young couple talk about
their love for their baby girl, as well as their fears and
anxiety. Kim's condition remained stable for twenty-four
hours, but then it became apparent that her heart was not
responding. The doctor broke the sad news.
After the first wave of grief had passed, the parents went
into the cardiac unit to see their child. The tubes and
monitors seemed awkward connected to such a tiny body.
The mother reached out and took her daughter's hand.
'*Kim, if you can hear Mommy, squeeze my hand," she
repeated several times. Almost miraculously the little girl
opened her eyes and gave a faint smile. As they started to
leave, the father threw himself across the bed of his daughter
and sobbed. Everyone in that hospital unit stood motionless
as they watched those parents say their goodbyes. It was
painful and yet joyful to see the love they had for their child.
In two short years she had completely captured their hearts.
If we could take those expressions of human love and the
love encompassing our own lives, and magnify them over
and over, we would catch a glimpse of God's love for us.
Do we ever wonder what was in the heart of God during
Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much! — 27
the crucifixion? Can we comprehend even faintly how an-
guished he must have been to see his people turn against all
that his son did to show the depth of love he had for them? It
is impossible to define that kind of love. The Bible says it is
characterized by patience, kindness, generosity, unselfish-
ness, good temper, sincerity. I think we can add another
characteristic: that love is also vulnerable.
Love is vulnerable. Thus it can be wounded and is open to
attack. But when love is vulnerable, it can also mold and
make its recipients open to the deepest and most meaningful
moments that human beings can experience.
God made himself painfully vulnerable to us. He took an
ordinary criminal's punishment and made it into an ex-
traordinary symbol of that vulnerable love. It is so hard for
us to believe that our response can only be, ''Not really . . .
no one could love me that much!"
I Don't Believe in
An Empty Tomb
Some years ago an author, James Ross, wrote a very
inspiring story about his fifteen-year-old sister-in-law, Mar-
garet, who was dying of cancer. In telling about her remark-
able acceptance of pain and death, Mr. Ross described her
character and her illness so vividly that the reader feels a
sense of personal bereavement when she dies.
One of the most moving parts of the book is the reading of
Margaret's will, which she dictated in the last stages of her
illness. She left some small possessions, like a locket and a
prayer book and her toys, to certain members of her family.
In addition to these material things, Margaret left a spiritual
legacy. Her will read, "To everyone who has been so won-
derful these past months, I leave my love and my trust and
faith in Christ." For her brother-in-law, the author of the
book, she reserved her most precious bequest: ''And to Jim
I leave my savings certificates and myself, for lo I am with
you always, even unto the end of the world."
There is a sense in which everyone leaves something of
himself or herself behind at death. No one walks the face of
this earth without leaving a footprint somewhere, on some-
body's heart. In Bernard Shaw's play. Saint Joan, the ex-
ecutioner says after he has put Joan of Arc to death, "Well,
you've heard the last of her." The Duke of Warlick rather
cautiously replies, "The last of her? I wonder if we have."
History has shown how wise the Duke was for we still
marvel at Joan's faith. It takes more than death to wipe out
the influence of a strong personality. We will all leave
something of ourselves behind when we die.
I Don't Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28
In that sense, young Margaret could bequeath herself to
her brother-in-law. She could leave him her memory, her
inspiration, her continued love. But Margaret could not give
him the meaning she attached to that promise, ''Lo, I am
with you always." She could not leave any member of her
family the promise that she would come back to them. She
could not say, ''In this world you will see me again." That is
a promise none of us has the power to make. And yet there
was a man who did make and keep that promise.
The life and work of Jesus is depicted in the stained glass
windows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. His
birth, his childhood, his relationships, his teachings, and his
death can all be seen. Each of those events could be trans-
posed into our lives, for any of us might be in those pictures.
We could be parents who offer to our children what was
offered him in the way of faith. One of us might be a disciple,
or a boy with a lunch box, or a woman touching his garment,
or Bartimaeus responding to his call, or the unnamed
Samaritan. We, too, listen in upper rooms, suffer rejection,
and open our lives and hearts to the love expressed on
Calvary. While we cannot put ourselves into the resurrec-
tion window, seeing it can make us aware that he is still
alive, not just in memory, or recalled inspiration, or remem-
bered love, but alive, just as alive in our world as he was that
Jesus made a startling statement before his death. In the
upper room during the last supper he said, 'T am not going to
leave you alone. In a little while the world will see me no
more, but you will see me. Because I will really be alive, you
will be alive, too."
The disciples who heard him say that had difficulty be-
lieving it the next day when they saw what happened. They
saw him nailed on a cross. They saw a spear stuck in his side.
They saw his mangled body taken down and mournfully
carried to a grave. They saw a stone rolled against the mouth
of the sepulchre, shutting out air and light. They knew that
he was dead. He still belonged to them in a spiritual sense,
his teachings echoing in their hearts and his inspiring life a
continuing example, but they had no idea they would see
IDon t Believe in An Empty Tomh — 28
him alive again. And yet they did. Some very honest men
and women testify to seeing him aHve after he was pro-
nounced dead. Let's Hsten to them.
''I went to the garden early Sunday morning," Mary
Magdalene says, ''carrying spices and hoping the soldiers
would let me anoint the body of Jesus. When I got there, the
place was deserted. The stone had been rolled away and the
tomb was empty. Believing that someone had stolen the
body, I threw myself to the ground and wept. I thought I
heard the gardener walk up, so I started telling him what I'd
found. After hearing me out, he called my name and I knew it
"My friend and I were on our way home to Emmaus that
Sunday afternoon," Cleopas reports, ''when a stranger
caught up with us and asked us why we were so sad. We told
him about the death of Jesus and how rejected we all felt
because we had thought he was the promised Messiah. The
stranger explained the scripture, helping us understand
some of the things that had taken place. It was late when we
reached home so we invited him in. When we sat down to
eat, he broke the bread and then we recognized Jesus!"
John admits that all of Jesus' followers were frightened
after the crucifixion, so they hid in an upper room. "I told
them about the empty tomb Peter and I had seen, but that
only frightened them — and me — more. As we sat there lost
and dejected, suddenly Jesus himself stood in the midst of
us. At first we thought we were seeing a ghost, but he talked
and ate with us, and gave us his blessing. He was there in the
room with us, alive!"
"I thought they were hallucinating or having a strange
vision when they said Jesus was alive," Thomas says. "By
nature I am a bit skeptical of what others say, and I was
not there the first time he appeared. But when he came again
and allowed me to touch his feet and his hands, there was no
doubt in my mind that Jesus was alive."
"I doubted even when I looked into the empty tomb,"
reports Simon Peter, "but I saw him both times he appeared
in the upper room and will never forget the incident later on
the seashore when he asked me three times if I loved him.
IDont Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28
Maybe Jesus wanted to be convinced of my love since I had
denied him three times."
These were his followers, people who already believed
him. Why did Jesus appear only to them? Why didn't he
appear to some neutral observers? Better yet, why didn't he
go back to the high priest who condemned him, or to the
governor who sentenced him, or to the barracks of the
soldiers who executed him? Why didn't he go back to them
and scare the daylights out of them and bring them to their
knees in terror? He had said, 'The world will see me no
Jesus was alive to those who looked for him. Because they
looked for him, they found him, and when they found him
alive, they came back to life. The first Easter marked not
only his resurrection, but their resurrection also. Something
happened to those confused and fearful and heartbroken
disciples on the third day after the crucifixion. Something
restored their faith and kept it alive in the face of everything
they had to endure. Something gave them hope and love,
and kept them going in a world that made mockery of their
dreams, and called them fools, and hated them. We may
have some doubt about the verbal witness of Mary and John
and the others about what happened on Easter Day, but we
have no doubts about the way they lived after Easter. The
proof of the resurrection was not in the empty tomb but in
their lives. That's where it still lies today — not in an empty
tomb, but in our lives.
A Muslim once said to the Christian missionary, ''You
must admit there is one thing we Muslims have that you
Christians do not possess. When you go to Jerusalem to the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there is nothing for you there
but an empty place. When we Muslims go to Mecca, at least
we know where the body of our prophet is." He could not
have stated more concisely the thing that makes our faith so
vital. We do not believe in an empty tomb, but in a living
Presence, and the proof of that Presence s to be seen in our
The proof of the resurrection of Jesus is not restricted to a
first century tomb, but in our response to God in our lives
/ Don't Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28
now. Christmas can be nothing more than a sentimental
feehng of good will, or it can make us marvel at the ordinary
ways in which God comes to his world. The faith can be
nothing more than a sweet, lovely feeling that is nice for a
child's development, or it can be the remaking of a home or
the salvation of a marriage. Service to Christ's church can be
something we leave to women (since they like that kind of
thing) or retirees (who have time), or it can be a way to help
God's kingdom become a reality as it makes every other
facet of work take on new meaning. Holding on to what we
have because of an uncertain future can make our resources
shrivel and dry up, or they can be multiplied when we offer
them to Christ. The resurrection can be for us an unbeliev-
able first century event, or an experience that allows Christ
to live in us.
If we believe in the resurrection, we will be wonderfully
transformed, radically renewed. We will be able to rise from
the death of sin, greed, apathy, hatred, anger, selfishness to
a new quality of life that is, in every way, more human, more
personal, more spiritual. It will be just like the life of our
Lord and we may rightly call it resurrection. How ex-
traordinary that God offers it to us ordinary Christians.
Celebrating the resurrection one day a year is not enough.
The resurrection has to become a way of life for us, as do all
the other events in his life: his birth, his family relationships,
his personal encounters, his way of life, his priorities, his
death. It is up to you and me. God has made it possible, but
we have to make it happen.
''He rules the world with truth and grace," but he makes
us prove ''the wonders of his love."
What's in The Clouds?
Perhaps you have heard the silly story about the two men
who were out in their boat one Sunday morning fishing. Both
felt a few pangs of guilt about not being in church, so they
were trying to justify their decision to fish instead of wor-
ship. They decided their communion with God in nature was
just as vital, if not more so, in a boat as in a pew.
One of the fishermen said, 'T'm the religious type any-
way. Why, I can recite the Lord's Prayer from memory. I
learned it when I was a little fellow in Sunday School and
have never forgotten it."
"I don't believe you," the other man said.
"Well, I'll just bet you five dollars I can," he replied as he
pulled a bill out of his wallet and placed it on the bottom of
As he followed suit, his companion challenged him to say
it word for word.
''Okay," the religious fellow said. ''Now I lay me down to
sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before
I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
His fishing companion picked up the two five dollar bills
and handed them to his buddy. "I didn't think you could do
it. Here's your money!"
Our sadly limited knowledge of the Christian faith is also
evident in another story I read. It was just before Easter and
three church members were talking about the approaching
holiday and what they liked most about it. One of them said,
"What I like about Easter is all the turkey and dressing and
the stories about the pilgrims and the Indians." The second
What\s in the Clouds? — 29
member added, ''Yeah, and I really like decorating the tree
and finding all those presents under it on Easter morning."
Somewhat exasperated at the other two, the third member
corrected them with, ''Oh, no! You have it all wrong. Easter
is when Jesus comes out of the tomb, sees his shadow, and
says that we'll have six more weeks of winter weather."
That story sounds ridiculous to us because we all know
that meaning of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The
bottom panels of the stained glass windows in the Edenton
Street United Methodist Church sanctuary are reminders of
Christmas and Easter and other significant Christian events,
and we could explain most of them. The nativity, Jesus in the
temple, the last supper, Gethsemane, the crucifixion and
resurrection are all within our minds' reach. But what about
the last window? It shows Christ with outstretched arms,
standing on clouds and surrounded by two men who appar-
ently must be angels since they have wings. If there were a
funny story to tell about that window, how many of us would
catch on? How many of us know what happened after Easter
If we stop and think about it, we'll remember that the
Apostles' Creed makes reference to it. When we use that
affirmation of faith, we declare our belief in Jesus Christ,
"who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin
Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead,
and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended
into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God." This last
window depicts the ascension. Ascension means Christ . . .
means Christ did what?
After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus saw him
several times. He appeared to the women as they ran from
the empty tomb, on their way to tell the disciples that he had
risen. He met the disciples a number of times in the upper
room, by the seashore, on the hillside. He walked and talked
with two friends from Emmaus and approached Mary Mag-
dalene as she stood outside the empty tomb. The four writ-
ers of the gospels report these appearances. But one of
them, Luke, tells of an event that took place after the resur-
rection appearances. He tells it in two places: in his gospel
What's in the Clouds? — 29
and in the Book of Acts . The event he records has come to be
known as the ascension of our Lord — his leaving the earth.
In his gospel, Luke implies that the ascension happened at
the end of that long Easter Day (Luke 24:51). In writing
Acts, Luke states that Jesus ascended into heaven at the end
of forty days. We have a problem pinpointing or being able
to pinpoint the specific time. We also have difficulty with the
language Luke uses to convey the meaning of this event.
This story comes from an age in which man's theories of
the universe were very different from ours. The people of
the first century thought of the universe in terms of the old
Babylonian cosmology. They supposed the earth to be a flat
expanse, overarched by the sky. Above the sky were the
heavens. There God abided, so going to him meant rising
from the earth, through the clouds, into those heavenly
places above. Underneath the flat earth was hell, the third
level in this concept of a three-tiered universe.
When Luke wrote the account of the ascension, he was
trying to picture reality in terms and symbols his first readers
could understand. So he wrote: ''As the disciples were
looking on, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of
their sight." (It is hard to realize that some well-meaning but
misguided people have gone so far as to say that Jesus was
an astronaut and the cloud was the exhaust from the fiery
chariot of God.)
I read of a literal scripture reader who found a group of
soldiers sitting in the barracks, talking about John Glenn and
his first orbit in space. Joining in the conversation, the
reader informed the soldiers that he knew three men who
had traveled in space long before Glenn. Opening the Bible,
he read to them about Enoch and Elijah, two Old Testament
characters who were reported to be so close to God that they
never died but ascended right into heaven. (Genesis 5:24; II
Kings 2:11). Then he told them of the third astronaut, Jesus,
and his ascension. (Acts 1:9).
We twentieth-century Christians know that this earth is a
mere speck in the immensity of space. No matter how far
down into the earth we dig, we will not find any fiery pits. No
matter how far we ascend into the sky, we will not find the
What's in the Clouds?— 29
glories of a heavenly abode, only immense and silent space
sprinkled with galaxies. It was no news to us when a Russian
cosmonaut reported that he had seen no angels during his
trip into space. Luke wrote about Christ ascending beyond
clouds to his heavenly Father because he, too, believed in a
three-tiered universe. His first readers understood what he
The real meaning of the ascension, however, lies beyond
all the symbolism of the clouds and the language of an
outmoded view of space. There is a profound truth here, and
we can grasp it if we stretch our minds beyond the ancient
cosmology to the Christ of today whose ascension has sig-
nificance for us. I want to suggest two things it can mean for
us right now, where we are. Let me warn you that they are
very simple things. In giving them I feel like Charlie Brown
in the "Peanuts" comic strip. One day Charlie, Lucy, and
Linus were all looking at the clouds. Lucy said, 'Tf you use
your imagination, you can see a lot of things in the cloud
formations. What do you see, Linus?" Linus replied,
"Well, those clouds look like the map of British Honduras in
the Caribbean. That cloud looks a little like the profile of
Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that
group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the
stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing to
one side." Lucy told Linus he did well. Then turning to
Charlie, she asked, "What do you see in the clouds?" Poor
old Charlie, with a bewildered look, replied, "I was going to
say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind."
Surely there are some profound things to see in the clouds
which surround the ascension of Christ, but let me point out
two simple ideas.
First, the ascension is Luke's way of saying that the Son
has been completely and totally accepted and welcomed by
the Father. As the disciples were talking with Jesus, he
blessed them and parted from them. Where did he go? He
went to the Father who gave him to us. I like the way one
theologian puts it. He says the ascension is the story of the
homecoming of the Son of Man who had wandered into this
What's in the Clouds? — 29
It is not surprising that Luke tells us the disciples ''went
back to Jerusalem with great joy." They shared in that
celebration. The Jesus they had followed, the one who had
been killed and had come back to them on Easter, was
indeed the Son of God. That is what the cloud symbolizes in
this story. Throughout the Old Testament, the cloud meant
that God was present. The Hebrews were led through the
wilderness by a cloud. A cloud surrounded Moses when he
received the Ten Commandments. Isaiah said that God's
presence was like a cloud of smoke filling the temple. The
disciples understood that their Lord had been welcomed
home into the full and total presence of God, symbolized by
The ascension is a way of saying that there is no need to
^ look for any other saviour, any other lord, no point in think-
ing that governments can save or make mankind. Asking our
youth to become saviours and make this world better is
futile. Even continuing to anticipate that some futuristic
event will bring salvation is to deny what God has already
done, and is doing. Jesus the Saviour has come to us, and in
spirit has never left us. "Lo, I am with you always, even
unto the end of the world." As we follow him, his directions,
his methods, we will be accepted as he was accepted and
welcomed as he was welcomed.
We see The Way in such ordinary ways. We see it in the
sanctuary windows: the influence of parents (temple bap-
tism), the close ties between home and church (Jesus at
twelve), the gifts we offer (feeding of the five thousand), the
priorities we set (touching the garment), the acts of kindness
we show (the parable of the Good Samaritan), the inheri-
tance we accept (the upper room), the love we exemplif>c
(crucifixion), the cocoons of selfishness we rise from (the
resurrection). Here are the ordinary ways in which we, too,
ascend to the Father, accepted and welcomed, not in clouds
or in some future time, but now, as we strive to follow our
In the second place, the ascension is Luke's way of saying
that Christ ''departed from" the disciples in order to be
"ever present" with them. Paradoxically, we believe Jesus
What's in the Clouds?— 29
''went away'' so that he could ''be present" with all peoples
everywhere. He changed from a localized Jesus, limited by
time and space, to a universal, cosmic Christ, who is Lord of
all. His human life was only the beginning of the Good
The life span of that particular human being, Jesus of
Nazareth, was now over and had vanished into the past, as
all human life does. His physical presence was no longer
available. His spirit was now set free from the limitations of
his particular historical existence. And that living and life-
giving presence of Christ was to be hereafter available at all
times and in all places, to all who would accept it.
The ascension declares that Christ is the Lord, the exalted
and ascended Lord of all peoples and all nations. His love
embraces Orient and Occident, Asian and American. He is
present on both sides of every gap we create, every wall we
build, every barrier we erect. He is on both and all sides
calling us so that we, too, can enjoy the same homecoming.
The ascension reinforces our belief that Christ never leaves
and never forsakes us. His ever-present spirit assures us that
he is always near.
There is surely more to be seen in Luke's ascension
clouds, more than simply Charlie Brown's ducky and hor-
sey. But if in those ordinary clouds we find the extraordinary
freedom to follow Christ all the way home, if we are able to
declare that he is with us and lord over every part of this
universe and our lives, then our simplicity has revealed
truths by which we can live and die. Hallelujah! Amen!
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